Pope Joan (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 26-Oct-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Interviews-Cast & Crew
Trailer-Eagle Entertainment trailers x 6
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 140:52
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Sönke Wortmann

Eagle Entertainment
Starring Johanna Wokalek
David Wenham
John Goodman
Iain Glen
Edward Petherbridge
Anatole Taubman
Lotte Flack
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $29.95 Music Marcel Barsotti

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     There is a legend that in the 9th century A.D Johanna von Ingelheim, a woman from an impoverished background, disguised herself as a man and rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church in Rome until she was ordained as Pope Johannes VIII. Accounts of Pope Joan first appeared in the 13th Century and have persisted ever since, although the Church denies it ever happened. The story of Pope Joan has been told previously in a 1972 film staring Liv Ullmann. Now comes a 2009 version, this time based upon the 1996 best selling novel by Donna Woolfolk Cross

     Born in rural Germania in 814 AD to a violent and brutal father who believes that knowledge, reading and writing are for men only, Joan is secretly taught by her older brother. She is a quick and astute learner and her intelligence comes first to the attention of the elderly scholar Aesculapius (Edward Petherbridge), who takes over her teaching, and then Bishop Fulgentius. Joan is admitted into the church school where she is the only girl, and despite being the best pupil she is humiliated by the teacher monk Odo (Marc Bischoff) and the other pupils. Joan is, however, taken into the household of the nobleman Gerold (David Wenham) despite the opposition of his wife Richild (Claudia Michelsen). Gradually an attraction grows between Joan (played as an adult by Johanna Wokalek) and Gerold, but when he is called away to the wars Richild takes the opportunity to marry Joan off. On the day she is to be married, Northmen raid the town, looting and killing. Joan survives, dresses herself as a man and finds refuge in Fulda Abbey.

     In the Abbey, Joan becomes a proficient herbalist and healer, hiding her true sex for some years. In time she travels to Rome where Pope Sergius (John Goodman) is gravely ill. Such is her reputation as a healer, Joan is summonsed to the Vatican and cures Sergius, becoming his confidant and supporter. Later Sergius appoints her to the high ranking post of Papal Nomenclator, displacing the corrupt aristocrat Anastasius (Anatole Taubman). He has ambitions to be the next Pope and thus becomes Joan’s implacable enemy. When Emperor Lothar of Germania comes to Rome he brings in his army Gerold, who had believed that Joan was dead. Meeting, they find that their love has only grown stronger, and Joan is torn between her love for Gerold and using her position within the Church to address the dire poverty of the common people. Choosing Gerold, they consummate their relationship and prepare to depart Rome, but Sergius dies in mysterious circumstances and Joan, to her surprise, is elected Pope. This makes the hatred of Anastasius even more vehement and dangerous, and with conspiracies afoot Gerold is appointed captain of the Papal Guard. But when Joan discovers that she is pregnant, it is clear that her reign as Pope is not going to end happily.

     Pope Joan (Die Papstin) is a multi European country co-production, acted in English. It is told in an old fashioned measured, linear way. Except for the introduction and a coda, the film occurs chronologically telling a straight forward story and taking its time to establish place and events; it takes almost an hour, for example, before Joan comes to adulthood. But there is a lot to look at; the sets and costumes are incredibly detailed, wonderfully evoking the medieval world. The squalid living conditions, the dirt and mud, the thatched roofs, the animals, the rats and pestilence are all there, including in the Bishop’s court, but the sets have a wonderful depth and grandeur to them that is impressive. The colours in Germania are dull and dark, all browns and yellows with the muted greens of the forest and the deep red of some of the cloaks of the wealthy providing only a muted contrast. When the story moves to Rome, the colours explode into vibrancy in the Vatican court, although the clothes of the common people remain muted. Pope Joan is a sumptuous treat and the visuals are never dull.

     The sets and costumes however seem to overwhelm some of the acting. It is perhaps not a surprising piece of marketing here in Australia that the cover of our Region B Blu-ray features only the picture of David Wenham although he is absent for long periods of the film and looks rather uncomfortable when he is on screen. In all other regions, it is Johanna Wokalek who is prominently displayed, as befits her starring role. Once Joan becomes an adult and she appears, Wokalek is seldom off screen and anchors the film well, giving a solid performance and even managing to (mostly) convince as a clean cut man. John Goodman is also very good, while in the early sequences Iain Glen as Joan’s brutal and God loving father makes a decided impact. But this is really Wokalek’s movie, and her performance and the wonderful sets and costumes make Pope Joan a period costume drama well worth watching.

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Transfer Quality


     Pope Joan is presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p. The IMDb does not list its original ratio, and although one review of the DVD lists the ratio as 2.35:1, BD reviews in various regions indicate 1.78:1. Watching the film I did not see any evidence of serious cropping, so I suspect that the original ratio is 1.85:1.

     In a word, the print is fabulous. As noted in the review, this is not a film of vibrant colours, at least until the Rome segments. Instead, the muted colours of costumes and sets have a wonderful depth and clarity; they look lived in. Detail is very sharp, showing all the dirt and grime of the era, blacks are absolutely solid and shadow detail pristine. Skin tones do tend on the pale side, but this was probably intended, especially Joan’s pallor towards the end. I noticed no film or film to video artefacts.

    English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired are available. They come in different colours depending on who is speaking, and caption the speaker if they are not on screen. Foley effects also have colours. From the portion I sampled, the subtitles seem to follow the dialogue well and contained no grammatical or spelling errors.

     Lip Synchronisation was fine.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is a choice between English DTS-HD MA and Dolby Digital 5.1. I listened to the DTS track and sampled the Dolby Digital.

     The DTS audio is not to the same level as the video. Dialogue, with some minor exceptions, is clear enough and the surrounds do provide Foley effects and music which gets the job done without being impressive. The sub woofer provides limited support. Functional is probably the best description. The Dolby Digital 5.1 had less sharpness and depth than even the DTS.

     The orchestral and choral score by Marcel Barsotti provided good support to the visuals.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Cast and Crew Interviews (22:49)

     Pretty much an EPK with questions posed in a text screen about the roles and challenges of filming which the interviewees answer in short (longest 1:19, shortest 0:13, most around 0:35) segments. All answer in English. Perhaps the most interesting are some details of the technical aspects of the set design, photography and costumes. Interviewed are actors Johanna Wokalek, David Wenham, John Goodman, Anatole Taubman and Edward Petherbridge plus crew Sonke Wortmann (screenplay / director), Martin Moszkowicz (producer), Oliver Berben (producer), Heinrich Hadding (screenplay), Tom Fahrmann (DP), Bernd Lepel (production designer), Ester Walz (costume designer) plus Donna Woolfolk Cross (author of the original novel).

Image Gallery

     Twenty-six film stills and behind the scenes images. Film music in the background, use the remote to advance to the next image.


     Trailers for other films from Eagle Entertainment: The Revenant (2:36), Blood Fight (2:29), Mr. Nice (1:59), Set Up (2:06), Dead Heads (2:08) and Rain Fall (1:23).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There is not currently a Region A US Blu-ray of Pope Joan listed. The Region B versions available in the UK are Dutch and German releases. Both have England language tracks and trailers appear the only extras. Our Region B looks the winner.


    Pope Joan has wonderfully detailed sets and costumes which, together with Johanna Wokalek performance, make Pope Joan a period costume drama well worth watching. The film runs for 140 minutes and takes its time, but is does not feel that long.

     The video is excellent, the audio functional. Extras are not extensive, but there are some at least.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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