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The Young Pope: Season 1 - Review

The Young Pope

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

PAOLO Sorrentino’s The Young Pope was, arguably, the second great event series of the year after HBO’s Westworld. Fittingly, it delivered just as many pleasures.

Provocative yet thought-provoking, dark but consistently humorous, and never less than brilliantly acted, the series consistently captivated viewers with its political intrigue, moral and ethical challenges and fascinating characterisation.

Jude Law headed an impressive cast as the young Pope of the title: Lenny Belardo, now Pius XIII, a potential poster-boy for The Vatican, whose appointment was deemed by many to be an opportunity to turn around the Catholic Church’s fortunes and standing within society.

Far from being a puppet for the old guard, however, Lenny proved a wily opponent and a fierce advocate for conservatism. His views were forthright and consistently unpopular and targeted everything from abuse within the church to some of society’s perceived sins: adultery, abortion, homosexuality, common law marriage, etc, etc. Lenny determined to tackle them all, no matter who got in his way.

And yet as fiercely determined and scarily persuasive as he could so often be, there was both a charm and a sense of hurt buried deep within… something that Law channelled just as smoothly as he did the outward charisma or the aggressive persuader.

Watching him at play was a consistent pleasure, best epitomised by the opening titles as he moved, cockily, across the screen to an instrumental cover of a Jimi Hendrix classic as various works of art became tarnished by a speeding comet. It’s a grand-standing opening to each episode… but also one that perfectly encapsulated the playful and provocative nature of Sorrentino’s show.

There was strong support, too, from the likes of Javier Camara, as one of Lenny’s few allies; Diane Keaton, as a maternal nun, and Scott Shepherd, as the sinful Cardinal Dussolier, a brother-like figure to the pope… but none more so than Silvio Orlando as Angelo Cardinal Voiello, whose verbal jousting with Lenny provided many episode highlights as he looked to undermine or gain an edge to the young upstart.

For his part, Sorrentino kept things moving at a fairly brisk pace, while still managing to retain his signature cinematic style. Hence, there were several dream-like sequences that succeeded in capturing (and sometimes disturbing) the imagination… all befitting the directorial style of an auteur whose cinematic work includes such gems as Youth and The Great Beauty.

And yet, Sorrentino could also inject urgency when required. The latter series pursuit of a paedophile priest had a thriller element about it, while one of the season’s highlights came during a lengthy meeting between Lenny and the Italian Prime Minister as each attempted to gain the upper hand over each other with lengthy monologues about their plans for each other. It was scintillating stuff.

The Young Pope may not have suited as many tastes as, say, Westworld, and is certainly a harder sell given its religious themes. But for anyone – of any faith – willing to take a chance on it, the rewards were great. This was powerhouse television, elevated to the cinematic, by a director and cast as the very top of their game. To put it cheaply, it would be a sin to miss out.

Watch the trailer

Certificate: 15
Episodes: 9
UK Blu-ray and DVD Release: December 26, 2017