This winter is offering particularly rich pickings in terms of church-inspired TV productions. After the storming success of the film The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins seated on the papal throne – shown on Netflix and made by the Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles – Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino is back on the small screen with the sequel (or beta version) to the adventures of his Pope Pius XIII (played by Jude Law), a made-up clergyman who never existed.
In the opening instants of the first episode of The New Pope, we see a nun caring for an almost lifeless body, laid out in a chapel with walls hung with vast fluorescent crosses. When she has finished washing the face of Pope Pius XIII, plunged into a coma, the nun lies down and starts masturbating, stimulated by the inanimate body of a finely-honed Jude Law. And the credits kick in, accompanied by electronic music by Lele Marchitelli, who composed the original soundtrack to The Great Beauty of 2013, punctuated with highly saturated images, setting the tone for this transgressive series about a hypothetically progressive Vatican.
Co-produced by Sky, HBO and Canal +, the series wasn’t originally part of the director’s plan: not wanting to prolong the adventures of the young pope played by Jude Law, Paolo Sorrentino was finally persuaded to do a sequel about his imaginary Vatican. Occupied by the production of his biopic about the Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi, Silvio and the Others (2018), the filmmaker had put any ideas of a follow-up to The Young Pope on hold: at the end of the first season, we left the Pope Pius XIII suffering from a seizure just after revealing his face to a delirious crowd.
“The New Pope” (2019) by Paolo Sorrentino