The Roman Catholic Church has had a hard time of it recently, and when I say recently I mean since 1517 (and this isn't the 1517 that happens about an hour and a half after lunch). In recent years the death of dear old JPII was a bit of a blow. The latest Pope-switch was basically the equivalent of taking James May off Top Gear and replacing him with Fred West. JP was a cuddly, progressive, goalkeeper in a comedy car, who was widely rumoured to be appearing as Father Brown in a forthcoming ITV crime drama. This new chap, when it comes down to it, is scary. Some jazzy red shoes and a bewildering love of cats (any owner of a fuzzy beastie will tell you that white vestments don't go well with the moulting season) can do little against the great PR barrier that sits on his forehead. He is a one-man argument for male eyebrow plucking. Maybe he should start a comedy duo with Alistair Darling?
Following swiftly on from this awkward replacement came the Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown received the Usborne Bumper Book of Conspiracy Theories for his eleventh birthday, and has been working his way through it ever since. This is great news if you're a paranoid loon who lives in a bunker, but rather less inspiring if you prefer multi-page chapters, sentences that stretch a bit and plots that weren't already the subject of jokes twenty-five years ago (see Foucault's Pendulum). It's also bad news if you're the Church of Rome (which I appreciate you probably aren't), because it's had to suffer not only the books but also two whole motion pictures of Tom 'Matt Damon's Dad' Hanks crashing about ecclesiastical sets breaking floor tiles, setting things on fire and being portentous.
Now, however, the tables are set to change. My super-secret contact has picked up some exciting news from movie-world (and I don't mean the shabby rental shop in Hammersmith): the church of Rome is getting behind the camera! Already in the early stages of production, this all-action spectacular is expected to be the big blockbuster of 2011.
Tentatively titled X Cathedra (other mooted possibilities included The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather, and The Bible Code, but it was eventually decided that the Vatican must render unto Caesar what is due unto Caesar's arcane collection of intellectual property laws), this is the tale of one divinely appointed representative of God on earth's mission to save the world from an evil conspiracy hatched by a sinister conglomerate of condom manufacturers, biologists, thriller writers, and Jews. With nobody left to trust, the Pope is forced to take the law of God into his own hands.
There are already a host of big names on board, among which Mel Gibson features prominently, repeatedly and nauseatingly. However, the real news on the casting front is the first cinematic appearance of Pope Benedict XVI (credited as Joey R) himself. If previews are anything to go by, it's unlikely to be his last big-screen role.
Directed by John Woo, this shows the holy pontiff as you've never seen him before. An interview with a wildly over-enthusiastic Mel Gibson, slated for the DVD extras, contains a few clues about what we can expect:
'I thought I'd been in some pretty cool shit, but you ain't seen cool until you've seen the Pope kick someone in the head. We're putting the mental in sacramental. We're going to do for Catholicism what Battlefield Earth did for Scientology.'
Joseph Ratzinger himself is understandably reticent, but producers the Wachowski Brothers have nothing but praise for his talents. In an interview snippet acquired by my contact, Andy Wachowski says:
'I've never seen anything like it. He is like totally convincing on screen. He's spent literally years preparing for the role of a paranoid, prejudiced man of the cloth out of touch with the modern world.'
His brother Larry adds:
'And on top of that, he did all his own stunts. Joey is an awesome dude.'
Excitingly, my super-secret contact also managed to acquire a couple of rather shabby, grainy pre-production images. Excuse the picture quality – you know wat they’re always saying about these devious film pirates and their poor-quality recording equipment.