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Pope Joan
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Pope Joan More at IMDbPro »

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14 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Good cast in herky-jerky production

Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
11 May 2002

"Pope Joan" always gets panned in professional movie-review tomes and, worse, the final edit of the picture was severely tampered with by the studio, yet it does have some merit, particularly in the performances (which are all excellent). Based on a popular legend about a 9th Century nun who disguises herself as a man and--after some rather innocent deception--becomes Cardinal in Rome and later Pope. Good-looking picture was hacked up in post-production, giving the end result a half-baked feel, but I loved Liv Ullmann's work in the lead and Maximilian Schell is very sexy as a randy monk. Worth a look for Liv's admirers. **1/2 from ****

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11 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Interesting, moving, historical

Author: deborahpercy1 from United Kingdom
24 October 2005

I saw the film on TV, quite by chance. I found the film gripping: the story, the atmosphere and the historical detail.

I have no religious interest, but it made me curious to find out more about 'pope Joan'. The film is a work of fiction based on a legend, with very little factual basis.

Nevertheless, one could really get a sense of life in those times (9th century Europe). Poverty, illiteracy, corruption. The place of women. The violence, that life was worth very little.

Sadly, I think much of the world is just like that today, so perhaps it is a little window on humanity.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Medieval maid-nun vs forbidden fruit; female preacher-cardinal-pope vs forbidden rights

Author: Marcin Kukuczka from Cieszyn, Poland
26 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the Middle Ages, there were a lot of legends and tales about people whose lives attracted the society. From today's perspective, we could call them a sort of "medieval sensations." One of such was promoted by Martin of Opava (also known as Martin the Pole) through his work "Chronicon Pontificum Et Imperatum". This allegedly inspired a legend about a simple girl named Joan born in Mainz who joined the abbey and desired only to be a faithful nun. However, her biggest problem was the lust she could not resist, lust towards men. When she found a way to fulfill her carnal pleasures, that did not suffice. Joan struggled for more...for power in church. Having got the education at Athens, she left for Rome disguised as a man where she preached the word of God and soon became a cardinal and, in 852, the head of the Holy See. This legend was never found true, some of the Church hierarchies considered it anti-papal satire, some ignored it. Yet, in 1972 Michael Anderson decided to make a movie.

As the theme could be quite interesting for the script, the film generally does not do a good job. Although its beginning is pretty interesting and involving constituting a nice presentation of Joan's childhood and her desire for knowledge, later, it spoils a lot. Some serious mistakes that concern introducing historical reality result in poor effects and disappointment. The Roman Catholic Church is showed in a negative manner: monks appear to be ruled only by flesh and rape Joan before she enters the convent; there is practically no chastity among clergy and nuns. Joan takes the forbidden fruit and, having seen that the man she likes makes love to another nun, goes to her room and masturbates. Papal Rome is corrupted and accepts cardinals whoever there is at hand. Those are seriously wrong aspects that supply the viewer with a manipulated vision of Catholics and Church history. But, among them, what made me most angry was the mention of St Thecla. She was, according to the legend, a martyr in Nero's Rome and, most probably, a companion of St Paul in his journeys. She did not have the power as it is mentioned in the film but she only served the Apostle the same way Mary Magdalene served the Apostles. It was a pure female service short of search for power or for satisfaction. And here, Joan justifies her deeds saying that St Thecla had the power as a female. So as for the execution of the story, I would rate this film as 1/10. But fortunately, I can also find something positive about the movie, too.

The strongest point of POPE JOAN are the cast. Liv Ullman fits very well to the lead. She not only expresses desire in a convincing way but also feelings sublime, feelings of faith. The best of her scenes is, I think, the moment Joan consoles the dying. Young Sharon Winter who plays Joan as a child also does a memorable job and the moment she reads the Bible to the elderly and is applauded is both involving and unforgettable. Franco Nero is perfect as Louis who has a taste for girlish women and powerful companions. There is also some little nice part of Lesley Anne Down who portrays innocent-looking nun Cecilia. But three great stars of cinema really rock: these are Trevor Howard, Maximilian Schell and Olivia De Havilland. Howard is marvelous as Pope Leo for whom the most horrific hell would be an eternal bath in cold water. Olivia De Havilland convincingly depicts Mother Superior in the convent. Maximilian Schell is terrific as Adrian, the painter who lets young maid-nun try the Forbidden Fruit and female preacher-cardinal-pope use Forbidden Rights.

But coming back to the content, one thing made me quite confused...even if the story would have some "history" (I now refer more to Martin of Opava), how is it possible that no one recognized a woman in Pater Johanes, Cardinal Johanes and finally the pope Johanes? The pope Leo was only suspicious about "his" lovely gentle hands... In the film, it is Louis (Franco Nero) who manages that and in the most shocking scene, he starts to make love to the female pope. However, historically, it's a total fairy tale. As for the Saracens, there is no such mention even in Martin's.

Good use is made of music in the film but much more the musical score than the Gregorian chants that we hear from time to time. The Gregorian chant was absolutely different those days, most of the melodies resemble much later Middle Ages than the 9th century period. Yet, there appears one of the most popular hymns of the Church attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856) "Veni, Creator Spiritus". Difficult to say if it had that melody but indeed beautiful sung till now at important moments. By the music, however, I mostly mean the background to the scenes: delicate, profound, nice to hear. Consequently, the soundtrack from the movie would be interesting to get.

All in all, this film in its content should be treated like some movies on important religious themes recently made - all is a fairy tale, just a resemblance of the director's imagination with serious historical flaws. Hope this movie will not be harmful for anyone... 4/10

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Very good film although flawed

Author: madcardinal from Connecticut, United States
27 January 2007

I found the film version of the Pope Joan story compelling viewing because it conveyed the force and importance of Joan's spiritual calling yet portrayed her as an breathing human being (this may be somewhat ironic since it is possible she is only a legend). Here is a woman who hears God's voice and the voice of carnal longing. She is neither the lowly whore nor the ethereal virgin. Also, it is refreshing to see films where spirituality and belief in God are taken seriously.

I found the performances to be excellent, especially those of Liv Ullman and Trevor Howard. Ullman is very good at portraying the vertical pull of spirituality and the wrenching ambiguity of living in the material world. Trevor Howard's performance was utterly convincing. Also, Susan Winter had a quiet presence about her in her brief performance as the young Joan, which impressed me. What a tenuous thing to be a young girl in the Medieval age - what a microcosm she is of all human existence.

This film has its flaws, most notably the disjointed editing and jarred pacing. I do not quibble, however, with the less than ideal sound quality of the dialog or the occasional white lines which momentarily appear on the screen now and again because when I watch a film, I accept the film on its own terms; I do not wish it was something it isn't - a film made on a modest budget in 1972 should not be expected to look and sound like a mega-budget blockbuster filmed in 2006. On the whole, this movie is a success.

Cautionary note: not a movie for kids.

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6 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

a most enjoyable film...full marks!!

Author: sallyfisher-fisher from United Kingdom
12 March 2009


I really enjoyed this film as a real aficionado of historical faction and legends. Movie buffs who yearn for renowned actors whose sex appeal and charisma fill up the screen, as soon as they appear without uttering a word, would also find this motion picture enthralling.

Franco Nero as Prince Louis, with blazing blue eyes brimming over in sensuality , becomes Emperor, conquering both Infidels and the Vatican. Although Jeremy Kemp, has a small role, whose pockmarked face, as handsome as it is rugged and scarred with life, makes him so credible as Joan's bible thumping father. Maximilian Schell, in his part as Brother Adrian is yet another from this large cast of famous faces who are a pleasure to watch as they captivate and capture the audience as they embrace their characters. The beautiful Lesley-Ann Downe although very young, is not as innocent or virtuous as she looks. No less are any of the remarkable cast such as the enchanting hero/heroine Liv Ullman, whose transformation from a nun to a priest is seamless, that makes the two hours of SHE..WHO WOULD BE POPE such compelling viewing.

Although the setting is in the Dark Ages, there is a lightness in the way the unpleasant events are portrayed that make the reality of the harshness of life in that time, acceptable to all, from rape, pillage, murder and forbidden love.

The Evangelicals haven't changed their book or mantras and the flowing robes and costumes of the clergy have all remained the same in authentically reproduced settings and lavish scenery. This story had to be retold in its original uncut form, sliding in and out of millennia, to fully understand how the world has turned despite that we, as individuals remain the same. The psychologist analysing a woman claiming a former life as Pope, ensures a multifaceted film that would appeal to a wide audience. SF

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

and the writer?

Author: aghialos from Greece
18 June 2010

There is a novel (Pope Joan/ I Papissa Iwanna) by Greek writer Emmanouil Roidis (1836-1904). It's written at the language of those times. Papissa means a woman Pope. Only now there are women in churches. Writer lived at Syros (Ermoupolis). There were many Catholics in that Greek island. This novel was not loved by church... And the writer was a blasphemy for the church exactly for this reason. The film's story is relative to this novel? John Briley knew Roidis' novel? IMDb's review don't say anything about this. If someone knows about it, please write... You can see about the novel and the writer in internet. There 're many relative sites. I 'm waiting for any answers about this. Thank you!

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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Don't moan at Joan, moan at the post production

Author: michael-1151 from United Kingdom
14 January 2008

The early 1970's was my favourite period in recent cinema history, classics such as Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, Skolimowsky's Deep End and Visconti's Death in Venice abound; but there are some, less than ringing endorsements of the era, this half-forgotten movie being one.

Liv Ullman, the embodiment of Scandinavian sang-froid, the epitome of ephemeral solemnity, plays Joan, a pious and youthful nun, who travels from a medieval convent, burnt down by Saxons, raping and pillaging, as if they misconstrued it for a set on a Ken Russell film, to Rome where disguised as a (rather attractive) young man, she wins her spurs, becomes a cardinal and eventually the first - and possibly last - female pope.

The trouble is, although Liv's performance is full of meaning and her fights against the alleged sin of lust, particularly enthralling, the editing, jumpiness and preposterousness of some scenes, leave an anxious viewer in need of redemption elsewhere.

True, it is interesting to see actors of the time - Lesley Anne Down, Maximillian Schell, Trevor Howard and Olivia de Havilland - giving robust performances, but a sandwich with an attractive filling is hardly worth eating if the bread is stale. And this is a stale mish mash, which ultimately fails to satisfy. It is a shame. The theme is interesting, whether the story is true or not. Given the current arguments amongst many religions on the role of women, it has significance for us in the 21st Century.

The scenery around Brasov, Romania, where it was filmed, which I visited post Ceausescu, is exemplary. Mind you, maybe the reason for the film's disjointed nature is just that - that the dictator, in his first flush of dictatorial youth, was in charge of production. There again, maybe Ceausescu was a woman. Now that would be a tale worth telling...

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6 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Not nearly as good as it could have been

Author: loza-1
27 August 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Based on a supposedly true story of an Englishwoman who became pope for a short time and was lynched by a crowd after giving birth, this film could have been done much better, since the story on which it is based - true or not - is little more than a footnote in history.

Being set among cardinals and clergy, there was a marked lack of intrigue. The clandestine affair from which pope Joan's child was conceived is a sordid, grotty scene, totally lacking any passion. The final scene, where the crowd lynch their pope, was little more than a playground brawl.

Because this film was such a disaster, I do not see any film maker daring to touch this subject again. So we can therefore regard this film as an opportunity well and truly wasted.

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5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

a wonderful film

Author: vika-evdokimenko from United Kingdom
10 August 2009

"What a surprise! Not only the story, but what a cast! Liv Ullmann, Trevor Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Maximilian Schell, Franco Nero, Leslie Ann Down! And the texture of the movie - the crude medieval villages, the halls of the ancient Vatican, the incredible 10th Century nunnery, the countryside of Saxon Germany, in peace and war, scene after scene that could never have been shot in Hollywood. But the greatest discovery is the performance of Liv Ullmann. If anything ever deserved an Academy Award. She creates more passion and sexual desire with her eyes and the movement of a hand than the whole pantheon of current sex goddesses could with all their bodies and a ravishing musical score behind them. And when it comes to tragedy and fear those same eyes dig so deeply into the soul they leave a mark that haunts you for weeks. This is a wonderful, wonderful picture."

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4 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

A 'must see' film

Author: lfnachman from United Kingdom
10 August 2009


A must-see film. Franco Nero is so gorgeous in period dress (remember CAMELOT) he should never be seen in anything but costume drama. When he appears on screen you can feel his charisma... He's the love interest, and you can't help but envy the actresses who worked with him, but it's a woman's story and it is Liv Ullmann as the woman who would be - and probably was - the Pope, who carries the picture. As an actress she can do almost anything and in this picture does it most eloquently. She's touchingly vulnerable as a young girl, imperious as the Pope, heart-breaking as a desperate woman facing an impossible end. It contains all the best ingredients of a film. A fabulous movie, not to be missed!!

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