The Young Pope is a Machiavellian drama set within the confines of a modern-day Vatican. Paolo Sorrentino’s ten-part HBO series features Jude Law as Lenny Belardo (aka Pope Pius XIII), a young American cardinal who achieves the highest position in the Catholic Church. Once Belardo takes power, he surprises everyone with his aggressive leadership style and his very unique way of being pontiff.
Sorrentino is a director who gives his work a serious amount of visual pizzaz and he delivers some powerful stylistic choices in this classy HBO drama. This has the colours and textures reminiscent of a 1970s Italian cinema, something which is vey much intone with the Fellini-like quality of the show. Sorrentino plies The Young Pope with a playfulness that undercuts the drama and this dark humour helps make the show so watchable. Every time you think you’ve got a handle on how it’s going to play-out, you get thrown another curveball.
Jude Law landed a gem of a role when he was offered the lead in this top tier drama. Law has always had a smug onscreen presence and his Pope Pius XIII is the best turn of his career. It helps that he’s given such a great character: a Cherry Coke loving anti-hero who propels the plot of this limited series with gusto. His sparring with Silvio Orlando’s Cardinal Voiello is particularly memorable, and their scenes together are quite cringe-worthy in an enjoyable way. Diane Keaton does strong work as Lenny’s confident and mother figure, while James Cromwell also appears has his fallen mentor.
Television (and all its modern counterparts) has been taken to great new levels in recent years and The Young Pope keeps continues to keep up that high standard. Admittedly it might not have the depth and richness of Mad Men (but very few things do), but it is a very impressive piece of long-form story telling. It’s worth checking out for Jude Law’s career best performance and also for the intricate narrative beats and strong visuals. Roll-on season two!