Pope John Paul II (1984 TV Movie)
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In this film, we see a young Wojtyla just out of high school who is drawn to the theater in Poland. When Germany invades Poland at the start of WW II, he helps forge a theater group. It performs underground plays to encourage and lift the spirits of the Polish people. Wojtyla works by day in a quarry and chemical factory. By night, he meets with a group of young men who pursue spiritual growth. He joins a network to help Jews escape Poland. And, he just escapes death himself when he is struck down by a German army truck at night. Finally realizing he has a call from God to become a priest, he joins an underground seminary run by the archbishop of Krakow, Adam Sapieha.
After the war, we see Fr. Wojtyla return from studies in Rome and take his first parish assignment. He is a big hit with young people. He takes them to the mountains on hiking and camping trips. He is an expert skier. We see Fr. Wojtyla chosen to be a bishop, and then his dealings with the anti-church puppet government of the Soviet Union. We see his relationships with friends from his youth, and his support for Solidarity, the Polish workers union. We see a clever Archbishop Wojtyla outwit communist officials to renew public church processions. We see him confront the communist government so that the people can build a church in their new atheistic housing project, Nova Huta.
We also see Cardinal Wojtyla meeting with young seminarians in Rome. We see him attending the 1978 conclave that ultimately would select him to be the 264th pope of Catholic Church. We see the reaction by the public to the first non-Italian pope named in 455 years. And, we see John Paul II break tradition and speak from the balcony to the crowd in St. Peter's square on Oct. 16, 1978. In later years, this church leader would be highly influential in helping bring down the Soviet Union. He would be the most widely traveled pope in history. He flew more than 680,000 miles and visited 129 nations. He drew massive crowds wherever he went.
This is a fascinating look at the years leading up to Karol Wojtyla's reign as supreme pontiff of more than 1.1 billion Christians around the world. The production values and quality of this film are outstanding. And the acting is excellent by the entire cast. With a couple of exceptions, most of the cast were little known actors at the time. One exception is Albert Finney who played Wojtyla from his days as a priest onward. Another is Nigel Hawthorne who played Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the primate of Poland in 1978. Michael Crompton gives an excellent portrayal of the young Wojtyla. All others are excellent in their roles as well.
Several biographies have been written about John Paul II. And many of his writings – as pope and as a playwright in his own right, are in print. Two of his secular books have been made into movies. "The Jeweler's Shop" of 1989 starred Burt Lancaster, Ben Cross and Olivia Hussey. "Our God's Brother" was a 1997 English-speaking movie made in Poland. It starred double Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, and American actor Scott Wilson.
John Paul II was the third longest sitting pope. St. Peter was the longest at either 34 or 37 years. After him was Pius IX, from 1846 to 1878. He sat for 31 years, 7 months and 23 days – a total of 11,560 days. John Paul II sat from 1978 to 2005. That amounted to 26 years, 5 months and 18 days — for a total of 9,665 days. He is the 80th pope to be declared a saint by the Catholic Church. On April 27, 2014, he was canonized along with Pope John XXIII.
John Paul II was the quickest canonization of any pope since the church began its formal process in the second millennium. And, he is one of the quickest among all saints to be canonized after death. He died on April 2, 2005, and was canonized just 9 years and 25 days later. I have a video cassette of this excellent film, and hope that it will be put out on DVD soon.
DON'T MISS THE POINT... Made very much in the mode of a TV production (with its flashbacks and lengthy plots) POPE JOHN PAUL II relies on certain aspects in the life of this great man, not only the spiritual leader of the Catholics around the world but all people of good will. Seemingly, one of the major aspects of his mission that spanned almost three decades was UNITY that set forth a new civilization built upon peace and mutual respect. Hardly anyone of some sense of justice, understanding and tolerance (the last being one of the most fundamental themes of our existence) may pass his person indifferently. If viewers miss that point of unity, it is very hard to resist the temptation of partiality.
WHAT IS 'BEING A POLE?' Herbert Wise's movie's major strength lies in the insight into Polish reality and especially Polish religiosity which the director together with the writer Christopher Knopf memorably developed. Karol Wojtyla, future non-Italian pope John Paul II, was brought up in a country heavily influenced by its history, its sentiments, its customs and rich traditions. However, during his life, Poland was torn apart by two hostile forces, some of the most horrid monsters that arose in the history of mankind. Therefore, we must add one more theme to his upbringing context: fight for freedom amidst the storms of two greatest regimes of the 20th century: Nazism and communism. The former was conquered with the end of WWII while the latter spread its poisons far to the times when Wojtyla was elected pope. The characters, some fictional and some historical, reveal much of the thought and ideology that forced Poland to look the way it was from the 1940s (practically our protagonist's youth) to the 1970s. And young Karol? A noble character of youthful joy and enthusiasm who faces the ruins of his dreams and captivity, even death of his closest family and friends? Does he complain and mourn his plans that, naturally, could not be materialized, dreams that could never be fulfilled in such wretched reality?
No, he cares for others and learns to bring out the best of man. He has a Jewish friend, he helps Jewish people (note the Teitelbaum family) as well as Poles, he organizes a secret theater (his second love except for theology) among the resistance, he works physically in Solvay and, foremost, the voice of God takes over his love for acting. He overcomes every hardship with the rosary, complete confidence in Virgin Mary that he later as Pope manifested through Totus Tuus. It is very important to note that there are several scenes when we see him praying earnestly while the roar of bombs rage outside. Yes, these times made him a man of prayer and confidence. These times made him entirely aware that the last word belongs to God, to Love, to Life and Freedom.
CAST: Some viewers may have doubts whether the right actor/actors were cast for the role. While Michael Crompton is an almost perfect young Karol Wojtyla with the unique charm and gentleness of his face and striking intelligence, Albert Finney does no worse combining humor and seriousness, no fake holiness. Mind you his scenes with the youngsters or the cardinal who wears wrong socks. Unfortunately, he is usually compared to Jon Voight among the international audiences (the actor played John Paul II much later).
The supporting characters, mostly played by internationally well known cast constitute an interesting aspect of the film. While John McEnery portrays one Nicholas, a replacement of cardinal Dziwisz (which is changed historically), others play the eminent figures not only in the biography of the Pope but also in the history of Poland and Polish church. And...Nigel Hawthorne portrays cardinal Stefan Wyszynski - a milestone figure, the Servant of God called the Primate of Millennium; Jonathan Newth gives a convincing portrayal as Adam Sapieha, Malcolm Tierney is an interesting character of a communist sticking to a very subjective concept of dialog (consider the scene about the Corpus Christi procession); Robert Austin is a Nazi, Hans Frank, the governor in Cracow while Lee Montague is a memorable general Konev treading on the ruins, representing the second oppressor of Poland (mind you both appear merely in the meeting with Adam Sapieha). A mention must be made of Alfred Burke as Karol Wojtyla Sr and the first spiritual mentor of Karol.
THE MOVIE'S WHEREABOUTS: Just a note about the filming locations. Interestingly, the film was not filmed in Poland at all. Due to communist regime and some other circumstances that prompted the producers to select other places, it was filmed in Rome, of course, and in Graz, Austria.
Now, when John Paul II is a saint, when all seems to be a matter of past for some, this film constitutes a nice chance to consider this historic person once again in the universal need for a teacher of the significant human values like mercy, unity, peace, dignity, sanctity of life and hope.
An early but accurate biopic about the way of a Man, not merely a way to the heights of the Catholic Church but, foremost, a Way to human hearts.