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Following the premature death of his mother, Karol Wojtyla is brought up by his father in the Polish city of Krakow during the first half of the 20th century. An outstanding student with a magnetic personality, he dreams of becoming an actor. When his homeland is invaded by the Nazis in 1939, he and his friends secretly oppose the systematic persecution of their Polish culture. But, with the death of his father and the lacerating solitude which accompanies this loss, Karol's personal "resistance" takes on a new form and he decides to follow a priestly vocation. At the end of the war, Poland falls into the grip of Soviet totalitarianism. The newly ordained Karol is constantly surrounded by young people whom he teaches to safeguard and defend human dignity. He could be considered a serious threat to the regime, but the Communist authorities merely see him as an innocuous intellectual and even encourage his nomination for the position of bishop. Karol Wojtila is the youngest bishop in ... Written by
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I watched both the ABC and CBS versions of the life of Karol Wojtyla. The ABC version was impressive but the CBS miniseries is the one to watch for at Emmy time.
This version opens with the shooting of John Paul II on May 13, 1981. Then we see Karol's earlier life through flashbacks. Sadly, we see only five seconds with his mother, but that scene was wonderful. Add to that about ten seconds of Karol's life as a boy.
From there, we go to Poland in the days of the invasion by the Nazis. Karol is part of a theater group, and he is in college. A number of his friends and even a professor get taken away or killed by the Germans, and he has important choices to make. God's call seems to outweigh all the other factors, and Karol does end up becoming a priest, even though he must break rocks for the Germans. Even while doing that, Karol shows how strong and moral he is. Later, the Communists appear to be less of a threat than the Germans. Maybe so, but they are still manipulating the church for their own purposes.
We see several scenes with Karol's loving father, but for the most part his life is shaped by his superiors in the church, including Cardinal Adam Sapieha. Karol advances more quickly in the church than anyone would expect, making the Communists nervous.
Eventually, a new Pope is needed, and Karol is ready. He seems less reluctant to accept the position in this version, and the election process is shown in more detail (and twice), even using the correct language (which must have been Latin).
As Pope, John Paul II is shown as very loving and caring, interested in the people and in travel, and ready to take on all challenges. World events, especially those affecting Poland, receive a detailed treatment here, and Lech Walesa is a major character.
Cary Elwes did a fine job as Karol in his younger years, showing Karol with quite a sense of humor as well as very intelligent. Jon Voight, who looked less like John Paul II than Thomas Kretschmann, did an amazing job and effectively captured an aging and increasingly frail man who still had faith and a strong desire to serve. All the major actors did an impressive job, but I particularly noticed James Cromwell since I have known him since his days as Stretch Cunningham. Who would have ever believed Stretch Cunningham as a Cardinal? Well, believe it.
The ABC movie may be better for those with a limited attention span. If you want to be entertained rather than educated, this may not be the movie for you, though it includes plenty of entertaining scenes and considerably more laughs than the ABC movie did.
As a work of art, though, the CBS production achieves the excellence broadcast TV often lacks.
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