First Review: Pope John Paul II

There are some big names in this 2 part biopic on the famous pontiff: Jon Voight, Cary Elwes and Christopher Lee, to name a few.

They tend to be a distraction and make this dramatisation less believable as a result.

Playing the younger Karol Wojtyla is Elwes, yes the same actor from such films as Princess Bride and Saw. He’s not a bad actor by any means, but he plays the young priest very straight, delivering Apostle-like speeches and pearls of wisdom ad nauseum.

But that’s also the tone of this CBS production. It seems the man was without any human foibles or fears (aside from the survival of the Polish people from the Nazis). The depiction is therefore preachy, pardon the pun, and overly-virtuous.

This drama doesn’t humanize Wojtyla, it practically canonizes him. Did we really need that?

Elwes plays the role until the moment of pontification. So the character is thus fairly senior by the time it switches actors to Jon Voight, a belated concept.

Voight adds a little more zest to the character than Elwes. He, of course was mighty in Midnight Cowboy, where he got up to all sorts of antics that the Pope would frown upon.

Also in the cast is Christopher Lee, a cinematic Dracula, and James Cromwell.

I suppose I shouldn’t be harking back to their other career roles, but collectively, this casting is all rather humourous given the subject matter.

The production is elegantly shot, on location in Krakow and Rome.

If you can stomach the sanctifying script and direction by Writer / Director John Ken Harrison you might find this more satisfying viewing then I did.

SBS will screen this in two parts in a timeslot that is likely to aggrieve an older audience.

Part 1 airs 10:30pm Sunday April 1 on SBS. Part 2 a week later.

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