The Young Pope is grand in its ambition, impressive in scale, and richly detailed in its costumes and locations.
All of which is backed up by an excellent score, and gorgeous symmetry-filled cinematography. Seriously, there’s enough symmetry here to make even Wes Anderson squeal.
Yet, it’s not without flaws. Movement between plot threads is not always particularly graceful, with storylines abandoned, or left dangling in limbo for stretches. The pace at times chugs from methodical to outright slow, not helped by the occasional self-indulgence. And still, even in the slower sections, it has a clear, uniquely individual voice. One that’s got a heck of a lot to say, and isn’t afraid to take the unexpected route in getting its messages across.
It’s not the dry look at the inner-workings of the Catholic Church that it might have been by any means. Instead there’s wit and style in most every scene, even in the darkest of moments (which there are plenty of). There’s a bold confidence in how casually it twists the knife, gradually building tension with a knowing nod and wink. In fact, each episode starts with Jude Law’s chain-smoking Young Pope, Lenny Berardo, aka Pope Pius XIII literally winking at the camera. He has an arrogance and swagger that spreads infectiously across the show, for better and for worse.
Lenny is central to everything, ever captivating, and yet at the same time not actually all that likeable. He’s a contradiction – a modern Pope for modern days in many respects. But in others, old fashioned, even backwards and damaging in his viewpoint. Damaging not just to the Church, but to society at large as well, so is his power. It’s that contradictory nature that makes him so fascinating, as he swings from charming, to conflicted, to just plain deplorable and almost back again. He’s flawed, just like any other human, and simultaneously has a God complex like no other…and for good reason.
What Pope Pius XIII is not however, is the easily bendable leader that the elder Church Cardinals believed they were voting in to do their bidding. Whilst they play chess with the faith of millions, the new Pope rallies against the dated system, forging his own path. And there’s joy to be found in his ruffling of the elder’s feathers. That is, until you realise that they’re far more open-minded than him on the likes of abortion and homosexuality, and even the extent of his investigation into child abuse within the Church is brought into question. Not that the elders are perfect either. No one is, only the Pope has the “will of God” behind him. That, and his truly bonkers, seemingly God-sent visions. Things get pretty surreal. Actually, scratch that – very surreal.
Jude Law pulls the strings expertly in the key role. Sure, he borders on the hammy, even slapstick, on occasion. But whatever choices he makes just tend to feel right. The performance is theatrical, yes. Yet powerful, also. Just another contradiction in the line of dozens when it comes to Lenny Berardo and the story of his tenure at the top of the Catholic Church.
Rating (out of 5):
The Young Pope is available on DVD and Blu-ray now courtesy of Dazzler Media.