Pope Joan (2009 Film) - Plot

Plot

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 Normans break into the city during the wedding ceremony and carry out a bloody massacre, which Joan barely manages to survive.

Due to her experience of the massacre, Joan decides to assume a male disguise, entering the Fulda monastery of Benedictines as "Brother Johannes Anglicus". Shortly afterwards a fever spreads around the monastery; although Joan becomes ill during this time, she manages to avoid a physical examination, thanks to an elderly monk, who had realized she was a woman long before the fever hit.

She flees the monastery and is received as a woman by the son Arn (Marian Meder) of a woman she had helped years earlier, who has become a manager for a count. Arn gives her temporary shelter, though he knows of her gender, and makes her a tutor to his daughter Arnalda. After a short time there, Joan decides to re-assume her male disguise and to go on a pilgrimage to Rome to use her medical knowledge to become a Medicus there. In Rome she wins a great reputation by curing Pope Sergius II of gout with her herbal remedies and he makes her first his personal physician and then his Nomenclator. Finally, the pope threatens Lothair I for not confirming his election and Lothair marches to Rome with his army to subdue Sergius. Gerold also comes to town as part of Lothair's army's and recognizes Joan. Using a hydraulic device once built on a small scale by Joan and Gerold, the great door of the papal palace closes all by itself, seen as an Act of God. Pope Sergius then threatens Lothair and his soldiers that if they do not give respect, God's wrath will be upon them. Lothair's soldiers take this as a sign from God and all of them kneel, with Lothair following. Fascinated by what he has seen, Gerold looks out and sees Joan. He follows her and he reveals his desire to Joan, but she is torn between her male and female identities.

Meanwhile Lothair's ally Anastasius successfully plots to murder Sergius and the people gather to elect a successor by acclamation. Joan and Gerold expect Anastasius to be elected and plan to flee, but suddenly Joan discovers that it was, in fact, she herself who has been elected. During her pontificate she presents herself as a charitable pope, helping women and children and appointing Gerold as head of the papal army. However, she becomes pregnant and her reign is then in grave danger. She tries to hold off giving birth until after Easter, but Gerold is killed during the Easter procession by conspirators led by Anastasius, and that day Joan collapses and then dies in childbirth.

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.

Read more about this topic:  Pope Joan (2009 Film)

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