Wake up, Jude Law – there’s a new pope in town
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7 February 2020

Wake up, Jude Law – there’s a new pope in town

The New Pope, IMDb’s third-most anticipated TV show of 2020, is now streaming first on Showmax. Jude Law reprises his role as “young pope” Pius XIII, but another two-time Oscar nominee, John Malkovich, is gunning for his seat of power in the Vatican, and already earning high praise as the New Pope.  

The Young Pope, the original 2016 series, made Time Magazine’s list of the Ten Best Miniseries of the 2010s. Law was nominated for a Golden Globe for what the Guardian called “a lacerating performance – his young pope is brutally calculating, occasionally almost charming and never less than terrifying.” 

The series won the Fondazione Mimmo Rotella Award at the Venice Film Festival and was also nominated for two Emmys (for Production Design and Cinematography), among other accolades. 

“Outrageous, audacious, seductive, sexy and byzantine, to say nothing of visually voluptuous.”

Wall Street Journal

A pope to beguile us

If the young pope was, fittingly, larger than life – with a following to match – the new pope would need to up his game. The church (and production studios Sky Atlantic, HBO and Canal+) needed someone who could, as AV Club put it, “dim the bright, overwhelming star of Lenny Belardo.”

The new series opens with Pius lying in a coma, his replacement not working out so well for the Vatican, and pressure mounting to appoint a new pope. 

Enter the persuasive, seductive Sir John Brannox – soon to be Pope John Paul III. As the Guardian puts it, “Malkovich plays delicate Brannox with a purring, campy charisma; resplendent in a purple suit, a smudge of mascara beneath watchful eyes.” 

The result, the Guardian says, is a series “just as rich and ravishing and gloriously enigmatic,” as its predecessor, a “deep dive into the hidden world of the Vatican City, marvelling at its mystique with agnostic fervour.” 

Of course, they didn’t hire Law just so we could watch him sleep, as enjoyable as that is, so sooner or later these two powerhouses are going to face off over that gilded throne.

Star quality

The New Pope’s supporting cast includes some seriously well-known faces: some surprising guest stars: Oscar nominee Sharon Stone stops by the papal office in episode 5, and His Holiness takes the opportunity to ask for her advice on what the church could do “to make itself more eloquent.” It’s a very funny scene (hint, there is some crossing and uncrossing of knees), and there’s a similarly amusing – if far more uncomfortable – cameo from Marilyn Manson in episode 4.

The supporting case also includes Venice Best Actor winner Silvio Orlando, Berlin Shooting Star winner Cécile de France, San Sebastian Best Actor winner Javier Cámara and Cannes Film Festival Female Revelation winner Ludivine Sagnier, who all reprise their roles, and Ulrich Thomsen (Banshee, The Black List), who joins the cast this season.

Holy anticipation

The New Pope was making waves before it was even broadcast. The series premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September last year, instantly earning its first award for Emmy-nominated cinematographer Lucca Bigazzi. 

In Italy, that anticipation led to the January premiere drawing almost 1m viewers, dwarfing Game of Thrones’ release figures there. And audiences loved it, giving it the highest-ever rating for a Sky drama premiere in Italy.

The combined magnetism of its two leads aside, that’s in no small part due to the unmistakable signature of the man at the top. Like its predecessor, The New Pope is helmed by legendary Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino, who wrote and directed the Oscar- and BAFTA-winning foreign language film The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), Oscar-nominated movies Youth and Il Divo, and This Must Be the Place, which starred Sean Penn and won the Ecumenical Jury Award at Cannes.

The New York Times called The Young Pope “appealingly weird” saying, “Mr. Sorrentino composes shots as if painting religious art … A lush scene of Pius donning his vestments, scored to LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It, sounds insane if not blasphemous, but it’s sacred and profane in the best way.” 

With The New Pope, Sorrentino has ramped up the profane in ways that are sure to disturb the peaceful slumber of the young pope. The Wall Street Journal described the writing as “pure mischief”, saying the series is, “Outrageous, audacious, seductive, sexy and byzantine, to say nothing of visually voluptuous.” The Telegraph (UK) called it “baroque, theatrical and sexy,” while Indiewire hailed it as “gorgeous and outrageous.”

The Independent (UK) has called the series “the Sopranos in cassocks,” describing Jude law’s Pius as “right-wing, chain-smoking, deeply cynical and ultra-political. Machiavelli operating in the 21st century.”

John Paul III has an abundance of his own unique flaws to bring to the table, however. “I am irresponsible, I’m indolent, I’m pompous, I’m conceited,” he confesses. And he’s not the only one who thinks he has issues. In Pius’s words: “You are a danger to others, a rash, unreasonable child.” But then, as John Paul chillingly says: “It doesn’t matter. I am the pope.”

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