With a smirk and a wink to camera opening nearly every episode, Jude Law provides us with his finest role to date. A bold statement to make, but when you have ten episodes to flesh out a character as seemingly villainous and traditional as Pope Pius XII, you must hit the ground running. That he does, and Law provides audiences magnificent tension throughout The Young Pope, a series from director Paolo Sorrentino. What a superb pairing the two makes, and in turn they make some of the most dependable, engaging television the modern era will ever see. It is a fascinating, near-perfect piece of drama, with stories flowing over and around characters who grapple with their conscience and faith under the strained formalities of Vatican City living.
Displaying tones and attitudes that tackle the relative necessity and role of the Catholic faith in the modern era, The Young Pope adapts butting heads of tradition and modernity with great ease. Sorrentino and Law work exceptionally hard to produce a character who is both interesting to watch but intensely convinced of his holiness. As this holiness takes over for the persona of the Pope, his personal conflict and belief in God is tested. Law captures this immensely well, and his command of the camera is divine. He has a gaze of such tortured villainy, and to some degree, he verges on immoral. This is the line Law walks, and he does so with experience and effective utilisation of holy dialogue, hot topics and controversial issues.
To a degree, The Young Pope has bitten off more than it can chew. Sorrentino uses his experience to make a series of narratives that spiral off on their own but can come together with just as much ease. A few characters, while strong, are not given their justification. James Cromwell, as the spiritual guardian to Pope Pius XIII and former mentor, feels forgotten for some time before his relevance bobs up once more. It is not how great the performance is, but what he, and the rest of the cast, represent. Diane Keaton and Silvio Orlando particularly are show-stealers, who would hog the spotlight had they been given such consistently excellent dialogue as Law.
He is holy and mired by sin. Everyone in The Young Pope is, and the irony of the Pope who struggles with belief is not lost on this incredible ten-episode series. Its end is a tad erratic as it wishes to tie up the loose ends but leave a window of hope. It works, to some degree. There is a lot on the plate not just for Pope Pius XIII, but for us audiences too. How difficult it is to disseminate such wide and overarching topics, yet how confident Sorrentino is in doing so. Shaky at times, but overall, it is a beautifully written piece with a magnificent holding on how the church is, to some degree, perceived, conceived and criticised in the modern era. What if those criticisms were emboldened and the effect enforced far worse than we could possibly imagine? Sorrentino intends to find out.