Pope Joan

Pope Joan is such an interesting character and her story, based as it is on a centuries-old “legend”, is such an interesting concept; that in the middle ages, a German woman of exceptional intellect, learning, and courage, overcame the man-made limitations on her sex and rose to the top of her field, (albeit disguised as a man), and ended her days as the Pope in Rome. Remarkable.

Shame then that the 2009 movie is pretty much awful: dull and unremarkable. For a story of such natural dramatic tension – how does it feel to live your life in disguise? how does it feel to be held back from your vocation by narrow sexism? what is it like to know you might at any moment be uncovered, shamed and put to death? how do you balance physical needs with those of the role you’ve chosen to play? – it tackles these giddy issues only in passing, and instead plods along with all the flair of a BBC docudrama circa 1974. It tells us how Joan got there (complete with detached narrator’s voice-over) but gives us none of the introspection that might have made Joan conflicted, human, and thus interesting.

John Goodman aside, the supporting cast is just bland enough to not be able to tell if they are all being dubbed into English. And locations-wise it’s pretty boring too; a suitably low-rise Rome is recreated in the harsh, bleached light of Ouarzazate in Morocco. Terrible waste of a traumatized life.