Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that a lot of traffic has come from searches for The Young Pope, which is probably because I don’t have much competition.
There were previews and reviews for the first two episodes which screened at the Venice Film Festival, but after that, nada – a vow of silence. (This will likely change when it reaches its US air date on January 15.)
In the UK there hasn’t been the online discussion like with Westworld, although the Sun tabloid ran an article about Jude Law’s titular (haha) Pope grabbing the breast of Ludivine Sagnier’s character (he didn’t).
Many Twitter users said they couldn’t understand the show and dropped it. I don’t want to give too much away here, but to be clear – trailers for The Young Pope may indicate a stylish drama full of political intrigue, but if you’re expecting House of Cards in the Vatican, you’ll be frustrated.
This is true especially of the early episodes. I confess I almost gave up on Paolo Sorrentino’s swirling ten-hour art movie after the third/fourth episodes. But episodes five, six and seven have been exceptional – scheming cardinals, slimy politicians and insubordinate monks all get their comeuppance at the hands of the “diabolical” Pope Pius XIII.
Originally Lenny Belardo from New York, Pius was chosen to be a “photogenic puppet” – a bridge between progressive and conservative elements in the Church. He decided to go rogue, much to the horror of everyone, especially the manipulative, strangely lovable Secretary of State Voiello (Silvio Orlando).
Pius XIII doesn’t want any “part-time believers”. Intolerant of homosexuality, fiercely anti-abortion, he intends to remain elusive – never seen by anyone outside his inner circle. But Pius is also possessed of compassion, as we see in his dealings with Esther (Sagnier), the seemingly-infertile wife of a Swiss Guard.
Sometimes The Young Pope is like a documentary set at a glossy fashion mag. Watching Pius XIII stalking the Vatican corridors in his gold, finery and shades, all he needs is a handbag and he’d be Anna Wintour. (Hollywood Reporter called him an “icy control freak”.)
It’s a sin he banned cameras, because he’s really putting his mark on the papal wardrobe. Red shoes? Check. He’s even decreed that the papal tiara is IN this season.
Nonetheless, as of episode seven, Pius has made himself very unpopular with the press, with the rest of the church, a billion Catholics, other faiths…the list goes on.
His conservatism and religiosity seem to stem from his abandonment by his hippy parents, and even Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), his surrogate mother and biggest supporter, fears that his papacy is a calamity for both the man and the future of the church.
Can such a damaged man with his own personal demons be the spiritual leader of a billion people?
The Young Pope is dreamlike, introspective and darkly funny. And the best thing of all? That soundtrack. Divine.