Long before Jude Law was confirmed to appear in The Young Pope, the papacy was the source of fascination, as the position has been the subject of a great many films and television series – though perhaps never more convincingly and thought provokingly than in the 1991 Robbie Coltrane film The Pope Must Diet. But now, as the joint production between Sky Atlantic and HBO nears its UK premiere date, the upcoming miniseries has delivered its second trailer for the upcoming 10-hour event, and it seems the role of pontiff is once again ripe for the fictional treatment.
The miniseries comes from acclaimed writer-director Paolo Sorrentino, whose filmography includes The Great Beauty, Youth (starring Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz, and Harvey Keitel), and the 2011 film This Must Be the Place – the one where Sean Penn looks like Robert Smith of The Cure. This miniseries will mark the first time Sorrentino has worked in television, and will hopefully provide an interesting exploration of him as an artist, as his various storytelling techniques are stretched well past the confines of a two-hour movie in this 10-hour series.
The Young Pope represents a similar challenge for Law as well. Here he plays Lenny Belardo, the youngest man ever to ascend to the title of pope and the first American to do so. As the new trailer suggests, Lenny – or Pope Pious XIII – is something of an unconventional pontiff, one who is more than the powers that be bargained for, as he announces, “I don’t have any sins to confess” before the advert begins filling in the blanks with a series of descriptors like “saint” and “sinner,” moving on to “unconventional, contradictory, revolutionary.”
The trailer is superbly edited, showing off the lavish cinematography of Sorrentino’s frequent collaborator Luca Bigazzi, who captures Law in striking fashion, whether he’s kneeling in a parking lot, at the bottom of a pool, or coolly smoking a cigarette while leaning back in a chair. Aside from how splendid the series looks, though, viewers are also given a better hint as to what the story is. While it doesn’t seem to be too far outside the usual – i.e., people in entrenched positions of power disapprove of the new guy, the upstart with some wacky ideas – the series has the presence of both Diane Keaton as Sister Mary and James Cromwell as Lenny’s biggest adversary, Cardinal Michael Spencer – who clearly despises the young pope for taking a position he felt was meant for him.
The idea of a sexy, sinning pope with some radical ideas of how to wield the power of the papacy isn’t anything new. Showtime did something similar to middling success with Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI, in The Borgias, which saw the role of pontiff treated as the head of an organized crime family. The Young Pope, however, looks to approach its story from a much different angle all together. There seems to be some satirical elements on display to boot, as when Law confesses he has nothing to confess, or when he appears to address the audience directly (though that remains to be seen), saying, “They chose a pope they didn’t know. And today they begin to understand.”
Either way, the series looks to be a visual treat with some interesting performances behind it. With any luck, for those of us in the U.S., it will hit HBO sooner rather than later.
The Young Pope airs on Sky Atlantic on October 21; it will air on HBO sometime after that.