Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Pope Must Die (UK, 1991)

We British are good at offending people with our humour, the Monty Python team managed it perfectly in the past and over the same issue, religion. Ah religion, the bane of the human race and its history, just looking at what has happened since the dawn of time purely from people's beliefs in religion is depressing. Its of no real surprise that the writer and director of this controversial film was Peter Richardson, the creator of 'The Comic Strip' during the 80's, a band of alternative/anarchic comedians that revolutionised British television.

Its also funny how this film is almost identical to the American movie 'King Ralph' in terms of plot. Both share the exact storyline and both were released in the same year, six months apart. Here, a simple priest in Italy (Robbie Coltrane) is mistakenly (a spelling mistake) promoted to the top job of Pope. Of course this comes as a shock to most, especially the mafia who were trying to get their own man on the throne so to speak. What follows is a predictable farce of a comedy as Pope Albinizi tries his best to fulfil his role as leader of the Catholic Church whilst avoiding assassination attempts from the mafia and looking into the Vatican's dodgy accounts. In 'King Ralph' virtually the same thing occurs accept Ralph gets his gig by being the last descendant in the Royal bloodline.

One solid positive about this film is the casting and character performances, all are perfect. The main character of Albinizi is played by Robbie Coltrane, who was a part of The Comic Strip days but more of a cameo performer. Much like John Goodman in 'King Ralph' Coltrane offers laughs merely from his rather large proportions, the difference being Coltrane's razor sharp Scottish wit. Although the idea that Coltrane's priest being slightly rebellious, liking women, fast cars and rock and roll...but having a heart of gold, is corny and cliched, it does work. Coltrane has always had the look of a Teddy boy with his thick wavy black hair and the thought of greasy Scottish dandy in Brothel Creepers as Pope is enough to make anyone smile. Indeed Coltrane is very likeable here offering plenty of sweet mushy moments with kids, his old flame (Beverly D'Angelo) and the predictable attractive nun he meets.

The only other members of The Comic Strip in the film were Ade Edmonson who plays a deaf secretary (yet coming off like his previous character incarnations) and Richardson himself who plays a priest in charge of security. Its funny how Richardson's priest actually comes across as (and looks like) an aged Clint Eastwood, him being a tough ex-security coordinator for rock bands, so not your typical priest.

Other well performed characters would be the mafioso boss played Herbert Lom, an over protective father of his rebellious teenage daughter with a short temper. John Sessions and Steven O'Donnell pop up as a pair of bungling assassins for Lom's mafia boss, very much going down the route of The Pink Panther. But the best character must be the sleazy Cardinal Rocco played by Alex Rocco. You want a stereotypical, loud mouthed, Italian-American, Nu Yawker type sleazeball? then who better than Rocco, I love how they use his real name to make it sound even more lowbrow. This guy is a Cardinal by name/rank only, he is the main reason the Vatican's account are all messed up, he gambles, he drinks, he womanises, he swears, he wears gaudy jewellery, all by taking full advantage of rank and role. He's basically like a low ranking mafioso bookie or a slimeball car salesman or maybe an 80's British yuppie wannabe type. I adored how he always wore those 80's aviator shades, had his shirts unbuttoned to show his chest and carried a mobile around (in the shape of a crucifix). Brilliant how he would stop or interrupt the Pope to take a call, flipping the speaker bit out, he really came across as a real Del Boy type, British folk will get me.

The whole story is an easy dose of comedy with cliches and predictable twists and turns, no doubt about that. What I personally liked was the fact it was aimed at adults and it went for the jugular, the premise was very risky yet they still went ahead with it and didn't hold back. The film has balls and I think it works because of that. Combined with that the film also looks terrific! The locations were filmed in and around Yugoslavia but you'd never guess, it looked thoroughly like local Italian countryside to me. I especially liked the various costumes and sets on display, the Catholic attire was very authentic looking (probably not hard to achieve) from the bottom ranking local priests to the upper echelons of Vatican City (again Coltrane looked great in Pope garb). At the same time I must give big kudos to the sets and props. Painfully recreating various locations from within the Vatican including the Sistine Chapel and all being highly decorated with great detail. It really does look like they filmed within the Vatican, I think. Loved the quiet, peaceful, green and idyllic countryside where Albinizi is located at the start of the film, so beautiful.

Upon release this film pretty much bombed, which is a shame and obviously down to its religious content. In America they pretty much tried to ignore and virtually ban the film, even changing its title to 'The Pope Must Die(t)', which made no sense. Even in the UK the film came up against backlash and pathetic whining about being offensive. Its a huge shame because this is a classic bit of black comedy from the UK, showcasing some great talents who really pile on the ham and revel in the dark, morbid, farcical, taboo humour. I only wish they had cast other UK talents from the Strip like Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle or Nigel Planner.