The Young Pope review: Jude Law, bums and white smoke

Jude Law’s blasphemous pontiff is hard to warm to in Paolo Sorrentino’s sumptuous drama - but with such a stellar cast, it’s perhaps worth keeping the faith

Scheming wildcard: Jude Law as Lenny Belardo, aka Pope Pius XIII, in The Young Pope

Scheming wildcard: Jude Law as Lenny Belardo, aka Pope Pius XIII, in The Young Pope

 

Lenny Belardo is Pope Pius XIII, the first American pope to rock the Vatican and the youngest at that too. Played by the evenly tanned Jude Law, whose rear we see twice in the first seven minutes, this pope is a chain-smoking, Cherry Coke-drinking, scheming wildcard and he’s about to cause rumbles in the church. Think House of Cards’ Frank Underwood but in a fancy dress.

The first episode of The Young Pope (Sky Atlantic, Thursday) is slow-moving and, at times, incredibly irksome – but that didn’t stop it recently getting the highest ratings of any Sky-produced show in Italy.

But is there anything in it for those of us who don’t live close to Il Papa’s digs? Well, the second episode delivers more substance and the presence of James Cromwell, who plays Lenny’s scorned mentor and presumed future enemy, and Diane Keaton is insurance that there’s hope for this show.

Keaton plays Sister Mary, a nun who wears an “I’m a virgin but this is an old shirt” T-shirt to bed and believes that Lenny, who she raised in an orphanage, is also a saint. This sainthood is vaguely proved when he has a meaningful exchange with a kangaroo, making it the biggest WTF animal appearance since that polar bear in Lost.

Directed by Paulo Sorrentino (director of 2013’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty), The Young Pope is visually richer than a Caravaggio, but the dialogue makes it feel more like an accidental comedy than a drama.

Unlike the evil yet charismatic Underwood, it’s difficult to warm to young Len as he hops between denouncing God and then addressing the crowd in St Peter’s Square that if they don’t have God in their lives, they may as well be dead.

Even that line was too much for the entire sea of bishops in Rome.

The first two episodes set us up for a series full of betrayal and broken vows of celibacy - but all of that is mere background noise, until we figure out what’s going on with that kangaroo.

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