Pope Joan (2009 film)

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Pope Joan
Pope Joan 2009.jpg
Release poster
Directed by Sönke Wortmann
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Oliver Berben
Martin Moszkowicz
Screenplay by Heinrich Hadding
Jodi Ann Johnson
Sönke Wortmann
Based on a novel by Donna Woolfolk Cross
Starring Johanna Wokalek
David Wenham
John Goodman
Music by Marcel Barsotti
Cinematography Tom Fährmann
Edited by Hans Funck
Distributed by Summit Entertainment (2010) (USA)
Release dates
October 22, 2009 (Germany)
Running time
149 min
Country Germany
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget €22,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $27,412,220 (Worldwide) (8 June 2010)

Pope Joan (German: Die Päpstin) is a German, British, Italian, Spanish medieval epic film produced by Bernd Eichinger, based on American novelist Donna Woolfolk Cross's book of the same name. Directed by Sönke Wortmann, it stars Johanna Wokalek as Pope Joan, David Wenham as Gerold, her lover, and John Goodman as Pope Sergius II.[1] Its world premiere occurred in Berlin on 19 October 2009, going on general release in Germany on 22 October 2009.


Shortly after the death of Charlemagne, a woman called Joan is born in Ingelheim am Rhein. She is the daughter of a village priest (Iain Glen). He also rules his wife (Jördis Triebel) and family with a rod of iron, though his Saxon wife still secretly worships the pagan god Wotan. Even so, Joan grows up to be an articulate girl, who intensively studies the Bible, unbeknownst to her father. After her eldest brother's sudden death, their father wants to send his second son John to the cathedral school in Dorestad, but when the teacher Aesculapius (Edward Petherbridge) visits them in Ingelheim, Joan proves to be far more capable of dealing with the Scriptures than John. Against her father's wishes, Joan is taught by Aesculapius, who introduces her to literary works such as Homer's Odyssey.

When a messenger comes from the bishop to collect Joan to take her to the cathedral school, her father claims there has been a mistake and allows him to ride away with his other son. Joan flees her home at night and finds her brother, next to the body of the slain messenger. They reach Dorestad together, where the bishop reacts to Joan's strong words with great surprise, and the teacher Odo (Marc Bischoff) unwillingly takes her into his class. Count Gerold (David Wenham), however, supports the now-adolescent Joan by taking her into his home. Later Gerold falls in love with her. Soon afterwards, Gerold has to go to war in the army of Lothair I and his wife Richilde (Claudia Michelsen) takes advantage of his absence to try to arrange a marriage for Joan and thus get rid of her rival for Gerold's affections. However, the vikings break into the city during the wedding ceremony and carry out a bloody massacre, which Joan barely manages to survive.

Anastasius succeeds her but soon afterwards he is deposed by the Roman people and exiled to a monastery. There he writes the Liber Pontificalis, a list of the popes, from which he omits Joan. Many years later the story of the female pope is made known by Bishop Arnaldo, who is revealed to, in fact, be Arnalda, the daughter of Arn.


The film's production took a long time and was marked by financial and cast difficulties. The Oscar-winner Volker Schlöndorff's attempt to film the novel began in 1999, at first with the production companies UFA and Senator, until the latter was declared bankrupt in 2004, when he moved to Bernd Eichinger and Constantin Film. The planned principal photography was finally shelved in 2007 by a cancellation by John Goodman. The following summer Schlöndorff wrote a review in the Süddeutsche Zeitung criticising the production for film and television, leading to his dismissal. Sönke Wortmann replaced him as director and shortly afterwards, in May 2008, Franka Potente was replaced by Johanna Wokalek in the title role.[1]

Shooting began in early August 2008 at Burg Querfurt in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Other locations were the cloister of the Landesschule Pforta and the church of St. Cyriakus in Gernrode, with the Rome scenes filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco. Principal shooting was completed in 2008 in Germany and Morocco.



The Guardian noted the film's appearance in the Italian box office top 10 and noted Vatican criticism of the film and L'Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference, described it as being of "extremely limited vision".[2]


Pope Joan was nominated in four categories in the 2010 Deutscher Filmpreis (Best Supporting Actress for Jördis Triebel, Art Direction, costumes, and sound design).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "John Goodman back in "Pope Joan" after lawsuit". Vancouver Sun. July 30, 2008. Retrieved December 14, 2008. 
  2. ^ Child, Ben (2010-06-22). "Female pope film sparks Vatican row". The Guardian (London). 

External links[edit]