Tag Archives: Jude Law

TV REVIEW: HBO’s The Young Pope – difficult at the start, but worth sticking with

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.

the young pope

TV REVIEW: What do we know about Jude Law in The Young Pope? Who is Lenny Belardo?

The newly-elected Pope Pius XIII wakes up in the morning and decides what to wear. He greets his flunkies and prepares to make his first address from Saint Peter’s Basilica.

In what is an inevitable dream sequence, he exhorts the faithful to divorce, have fun etc.

For Pius, that’s actually the stuff of nightmares.

So who is the fictional Pope Pius XIII??

…well, he’s young (and American) 

Jude Law’s American accent and booming oratory caught me off guard (to my British tin ear he briefly sounded like Obama).

Pius, AKA Lenny Belardo, is the former Archbishop of New York, and the protégé of James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, who is mighty angry at being passed over.

…but not as young as scheming cardinals might hope

“I’m an orphan. And orphans are never young,” he explains to one old relic. Lenny was dropped at an orphanage by unknown parents for unknown reasons, and Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), raised him. She seems devoted to him, although heavens know why.

…he is not a nice man, probably

More a bullying, chain-smoking CEO than a man of God. He describes himself as “intransigent, irritable, vindictive.” He viciously abuses an elderly nun (not Sister Mary) for daring to smother him in kisses.

…he’s an arch-conservative

At first nobody knows his views or tastes on anything, let alone those whose job it is to prepare his first breakfast as Pope. “Didn’t anyone tell you I don’t eat much? Hardly anything, in fact. All I have in the morning is a Cherry Coke Zero,” he says.

But would His Holiness care for a regular Diet Coke? “Let’s not utter heresies.”

When he finally gives his first papal address, it’s fire and brimstone.

…his marketing strategy is just divine

He wants to be the invisible Pope, he tells Cécile De France’s Vatican City marketing boss Sofia. The poor, confused woman wants to discuss a photo shoot in order to plaster Pius’s handsome face over new plates, postcards and ashtrays. 

Instead he orders her to fire the Vatican’s official photographer. He never allows his picture to be taken, and for his first address there will be no lighting, no cameraman. The faithful must only see a dark shadow.

“That’s media suicide,” she gasps.

…is he entirely of this planet?!

He apparently has a bizarre affinity with animals, as we see in the first episode with a kangaroo (don’t ask).

Later he points at the stars. “That’s where God’s house is,” he says. “Half of a duplex, with a private swimming pool.” And why oh why must he keep messing with that poor priest’s head about being a secret atheist?

…is he worth the time? 

If you ask Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), the secretary of state, absolutely not. He’s clearly formulating a plan to take the new pontiff down, in a scheme that may involve the devout Esther (Ludivine Sagnier).

Paolo Sorrentino’s series is surreal and slow-moving. It’s TV to savour – if you can  – but not devour.

And I wonder if the initial black humour is vanishing like a puff of smoke from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel.

The Young Pope is on Sky Atlantic.