Italos prepare for pontiff p'gramming

ROME — As Pope John Paul II recovers from his ailments, a battle of papal biopics is brewing in the Eternal City, pitting Silvio Berlusconi’s broadcast group Mediaset against pubcaster RAI, with both networks straddling the line between veneration and exploitation.

“Karol,” a two-part biopic about the early life of the 84-year-old pontiff, Karol Wojtyla, will air on Mediaset’s flagship Canale 5 in April.

“His Holiness is going to be the first to see it,” claims producer Pietro Valsecchi.

The Vatican refused to confirm this but high-ranking Vatican officials have seen a promo video.

The E10 million ($13 million) “Karol,” produced by Valsecchi’s Taodue, is helmed by local telepic specialist Giacomo Battiato and shot in John Paul II’s native Poland. Polish thesp Piotr Adamczyk plays the young Wojtyla, while Italo hunk Raoul Bova (“Facing Windows”) plays an anti-Nazi priest who becomes his spiritual role model. Music is by Ennio Morricone.

“This is not a drama about the papacy,” says Valsecchi. “It’s the story of a young man who first witnessed Nazism and then Communism. We are talking about a period of European history, and through this period we are telling the story of the Pope.”

In September, Valsecchi will begin work on another Pope skein — this one centered on the papacy — due for a 2006 Mediaset airdate. Valsecchi hopes the elderly Pope will see this one, too.

Mediaset may be first out of the gate, but RAI hasn’t been idling.

Rome-based Lux Vide, prolific producer of religious dramas, has plans for a start-of-summer shooting date on “John Paul II” for RAI.

Biopic has been in the works for three years and is in final scripting stages. Drama is being mounted as an international co-production with high hopes for a U.S. partner. Casting and director are still being decided.

“Making a drama about the Pope’s early life is easy,” says Lux CEO Matilde Bernabei. “But an accurate, and also entertaining, drama about his papacy is not so simple.”

“There is no doubt that historically we have a much closer rapport with the Vatican than Valsecchi, and that will be reflected in our work,” she says.

Lux’s titles include the “The Bible” series, which several years ago unspooled for private papal screenings.

Meanwhile, “Karol” — for which Universal has international homevid rights — will make its market debut at next month’s MipTV in Cannes, sold by U.K-based Alchemy, alongside an assortment of other Pope-themed product.

Topping RAI Trade’s Mip lineup are two docus, “A Quarter of a Century With Pope John Paul II,” and “John Paul II: The Stubbornness of God.” The first, a RAI special, has already been acquired by RTL for Germany and by Gallic pubcaster France 2.

Another docu, “John Paul II — The Untold Story,” which draws largely on material shot by Vatican Television Center cameramen and promises glimpses of the Pope’s more private side — is being sold by Rome-based company H24.

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