August 15, 2005


Journey to the Vatican: A strong leading performance adds interest to a routine biopic about the formative years of Karol Wojtyla. (Kevin Crust, August 15, 2005, LA Times)

A reverent, long-form character sketch of the young Karol Wojtyla, "A Man Who Became Pope," charts the four decades leading to his papal election as John Paul II in 1978. The two-part, Italian-produced, English-language miniseries, airing tonight (and encoring Sunday morning) in one four-hour installment on the Hallmark Channel, follows the transformation of Wojtyla from an athletic young scholar to the leader of the Roman Catholic Church against a backdrop of Nazis and communists pillaging and oppressing his native Poland.

Vatican-approved, the by-the-numbers drama exposes no rough edges in its portrayal of the future pontiff, instead focusing on the events that molded him religiously, intellectually and philosophically. Other than emphasizing Wojtyla's proximity to the Holocaust and the effects of growing up in Wadowice, a town shared by Catholics and Jews, the miniseries avoids drawing direct lines between his early life and his actions as pope. Overall, the pacing of the film is remarkably tight — a necessity considering how much ground is covered — and manages to overcome some patches of affected dialogue and a portentous score by Ennio Morricone. Writer-director Giacomo Battiato wisely leans on his uniformly strong international cast to provide pathos and weight to the proceedings.

Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk is exceptional, credibly aging from 19 to 58 while delivering a performance that illuminates Karol's developing inner life. As a passionate young bohemian in Kraków or a mature professor of ethics at Lublin, Adamczyk projects the intelligence and warmth that made Wojtyla a charismatic leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 15, 2005 12:00 AM
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