Pope Pourri

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With Pope Benedict XVI stepping down at the end of the month, the Catholic Church needs someone - probably a man, we're guessing - to fill in. As usual, the movies have the answer. Well, an answer. We've revisited Hollywood's choices of Fathers to see what, if anything, the holy honchos can glean that might help their decision-making choices. And, holy moley, have there been some strange selections.Pontiff-icate on these...

Film: Lisztomania (1975)

If Ken Russell were a deranged Bond villain instead of a deranged movie director, he couldn't have concocted a more fiendish scheme for destabilising the world than making Ringo Starr pope. The thought of a billion Catholics trying to decipher a Christmas message delivered by Toby the Tram Engine is mindbending. That said, a pope train would be fun.

Film: Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973)

Zeffirelli's Francis of Assisi biopic may have been flowerier than Laura Ashley's jim-jams, but you can't argue with his choice of pope. Obi-Wan ticks all the papal boxes: he's dignified, comes with his own robes and can miracle his way around buildings. The late, great Alec Guinness brought his usual gravitas to his cameo as Pope Innocent III, providing a holy audience to the hippie Francis (Graham Faulkner) and his monkish sidekicks.

Film: The Agony And The Ecstasy (1965)

With a reputation for being a bit prickly, Rex Harrison would probably squeeze in between Oliver Reed and Satan himself on most people's list of choices to play the Pope. But thanks to Carol Reed, play him he did and a godly fist he made of it, too. Harrison's Julius II is an urbane pope sore-vexed by bothersome painter/decorator Michelangelo (Charlton Heston), who occasionally moved him to physical violence. With his emphasis on getting the Sistine Chapel just right, he'd be perfect for these design-conscious times.

Film: Pope Joan (1972)

Uh-oh! Lady pope. According to Chroniclius Wikipedius, Joan's strategy for raising to holy office was to wear men's clothes and change her name to 'John'. This could still work. It'd certainly win her an Oscar. As recorded in this stodgy 1972 epic, Liv Ullmann's Joan - sorry, John - succeeded Trevor Howard's Pope Leo and made a decent fist of the job until someone figured out she had lady parts.

Film: The Pope Must Die (1991)

Following the King Ralph template for cuddly-but-daft figureheads, Robbie Coltrane is caught in the middle as the humble priest appointed Pope after a clerical error. Coltrane's (un)Holy Father cuts a distinctly unpapal figure: he's called Dave, loves rock 'n' roll, has a son by an ex-girlfriend and a Cockney accent. He's probably a better pick for Archbishop of Canterbury.

Film: A Violent Life (1990)

Leaping from Bergman to churchman, the towering von Sydow was a strong papal pick. Von Sydow looked the part, had a religious background (he'd played Jesus) and was also the Exorcist. The Swede played Clement VII, a worldly, wily Pope who had the bad luck (or bad politics) to be in charge when disgruntled soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire sacked Rome in 1527. Unless Angela Merkel really loses her cool, this is unlikely to happen again.

Film: Pope Joan (2009)

John Goodman makes a suitably grave-looking Pontiff, and understandably so. Under Sergius II's watch, Rome was regularly used as a weekend break destination by the Saracens, who came to see the sights and burn them to the ground. To compound his problems, Sergius also suffered from a nasty case of gout and an awful haircut. Goodman is hot right now, though, and should be free after the Oscars.

Film: Elizabeth (1998)

Elizabeth I's sworn enemies comprised most of continental Europe, but heading the I Hate England club was Pope Paul IV, played with withering contempt by John Gielgud. His venal Paul IV didn't get out of bed for fewer than three burnt Protestants and was seriously unimpressed by Elizabeth, describing her as "an agent of wickedness" and dispatching assassin Daniel Craig to do away with her. Might be a problematic approach in these more touchy-feely times. Also, as we know from the Olympics, Daniel Craig is quite fond of the current Elizabeth.