THE YOUNG POPE ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
THE NEW POPE (series 2) ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Availability: You will have to search for this in your region, possibly Hulu, Neon, SBS
Plot: Italian director, screenwriter and writer, Paolo Sorrentino, brought the extraordinary series The Young Pope to the screen in 2016. This was followed by its much awaited sequel, The New Pope, in 2020. Series 1 takes us into the Vatican where a young American cardinal, Lenny Belardo, is about to become Pope Pius XIII. The scheming cardinals responsible for his election are at first confident that they will be able to control the new pope. But soon they regret their lack of recruitment due diligence. It turns out the handsome young Pius XIII is brash, manipulative, cruel, ultra-conservative, funny, yet extremely difficult to like – at least in the first few episodes. Furthermore, he radiates sexuality. Even more disconcertingly for the conclave, he is bent on reform – but not of the progressive or enlightened kind. His road to universal godliness blazes with fire and brimstone as he exercises ubiquitous and unchecked papal power to achieve a newfound medievalism. The cardinals’ collective feathers are well and truly ruffled. But then, in a profoundly compelling analysis of faith and doubt, the series explores the essence of human fallibility, religious reverence and the enigma of the papacy. Series 2, The New Pope, also begins with a conclave, and after further missteps by the Holy See, they elect the aristocratic British cardinal and socialite Sir John Brannox, thus beginning the reign of Pope John Paul III. The new pope is wise, detached, joyless, ambivalently philosophical and a good deal older than his predecessor. Like Pius XIII though, he has his demons. Through his smudged mascara (an eccentricity the cardinals ought to have paid heed to), the melancholic Sir John eyes them distractedly whilst verbalising cerebral meanderings that set the scene for absurdities to come. Later, once Brannox is secured as pontiff, Pius XIII reappears, and everyone is forced to resolve how to manage two popes in the Vatican.
Cast: The acting throughout series 1 and 2 is outstanding. Jude Law is splendid as Lenny, the saintly sinner who is not sure he even believes in God. He is wild, menacing, and focused. At the same time, he is haunted by personal uncertainties. His successor, Sir John Brannox, played deliciously by John Malkovich, is indifferent, also plagued by wavering convictions and a complex and tragic history. But once installed in the Vatican he begins to take the job more seriously, at least in a languid John Malkovich sort of way. Silvio Orlando, as Cardinal Voiello, the Machiavellian Secretary of State, is nothing short of brilliant as he schemes to achieve his personal ambitions. Javier Cámara is excellent as Cardinal Bernardo Gutierrez, the wisest and most compassionate of all, but with his own self-loathing secrets. There are many splendid performances across the two series, but these four characters capture, in cleverly nuanced ways, the complexity of human fallibility, aspiring humanity, and the very essence of what it is to have faith.
Filming and Setting: The cinematography is a major achievement in these two productions. The Vatican does not allow filmmakers within its walls, and so the production designer for the series, Ludovica Ferrario and her team recreated parts of the Vatican in Rome, including a full-scale replica of the Sistine Chapel and its antechamber, the spectacular Sala Regia. Great use was made of monumental buildings across Italy, and also the lush and beautiful gardens that can be found outside Rome. The results are truly extraordinary. At an estimated cost of $45 million, The Young Pope is Italy’s most expensive TV production. It is a sumptuous feast for the eyes.
Personal Comments: There has never really been a series anything like The Young Pope and its sequel – surreal, seductive, stylish, and often very funny. The productions are irreverent yet curiously respectful; humorous yet profoundly serious. The second series doesn’t quite have the focus and tightness of the first, meandering into subplots that undermine the central narrative of the series. But there is nevertheless something deeply fascinating about the Vatican and the men who control it. The characters are not particularly likeable in the first couple of episodes of the series, but if you persevere, and if you are able to roll with its overall weirdness, it is addictive. In fact, you may even need to go back for a second look.