HBO’s ‘The Young Pope’: When a Facepalm Just Isn’t Enough (VIDEO)


Oscar Wilde once observed that, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

But, he lived in the era before Hollywood. While it’s nice that Tinseltown likes to make movies about the Catholic Church, most of the ones they make are not so nice. More often than not, they’re silly, ridiculous and absurd. This is nothing new, but it’s sad to think that there are people out there who get their information about the Church from movies and TV show.

After all, it’s not like you can just look up everything the Church teaches and everything the pope does, writes and says, or check out some Church history.

It’s telling that the best thing HBO head Casey Bloys could say about his network’s upcoming “The Young Pope” is that it’s “not wildly innaccurate.”

Last summer, I got to ask Bloys about the European production, which launches in the U.S. on Sunday, Jan. 15. Here’s the exchange in full:

QUESTION: Hi.  I have a question on “The Young Pope.” Movies and TV, in general, don’t have a great track record of getting the factual details right about the Catholic Church, let alone a lot of other things. So what sort of research are you doing on this?  How close to reality are you going to stick, or is this sort of a fanciful impression of what goes on?

CASEY BLOYS: I will tell you, in terms of the level of research that Paolo did, I know he did research. I am guessing there is some creative license, but it’s not wildly ‑‑ it’s not wildly inaccurate, but I’m sure ‑‑ fanciful is a good ‑‑ a good word.  There is some creative license there.

Here’s how HBO’s official site describes the eight-episode limited series:

From Paolo Sorrentino, director of the Academy Award®-winning film ‘The Great Beauty,’ ‘The Young Pope’ tells the controversial story of the beginning of Pius XIII’s pontificate. Born Lenny Belardo, he is a complex and conflicted character, so conservative in his choices as to border on obscurantism, yet full of compassion towards the weak and poor. The first American pope, Pius XIII is a man of great power who is stubbornly resistant to the Vatican courtiers, unconcerned with the implications to his authority.

The ten-episode series stars two-time Academy Award® nominee Jude Law as Pius XIII, and Academy Award® winner Diane Keaton as Sister Mary, a nun from the U.S. now living in Vatican City.

Sorrentino, who also directed of the upcoming ‘Youth,’ says the series is about “the clear signs of God’s existence. The clear signs of God’s absence. How faith can be searched for and lost. The greatness of holiness, so great as to be unbearable when you are fighting temptations and when all you can do is to yield to them. The inner struggle between the huge responsibility of the Head of the Catholic Church and the miseries of the simple man that fate (or the Holy Spirit) chose as Pontiff. Finally, how to handle and manipulate power in a state whose dogma and moral imperative is the renunciation of power and selfless love towards one’s neighbor.”

And here’s what had to say:

Jude Law stars as Lenny Belardo, aka Pius XIII, the first American pope in history. Young and charming, his election seems to be the result of a simple yet effective media strategy on the part of the College of Cardinals. But appearances can be deceptive – above all, in the place where people have chosen the great mystery of God as the compass guiding their existence. That place is the Vatican and those people are the leaders of the Church. And Pius XIII proves to be the most mysterious and contradictory of them all. Shrewd and naïve, ironic and pedantic, primeval and cutting-edge, doubting and resolute, melancholy and ruthless, Pius XIII tries to cross the endless river of human solitude to find a God he can give to mankind. And to himself. Diane Keaton stars as Sister Mary, a nun from the U.S. now living in Vatican City. The cast also includes Silvio Orlando, Scott Shepherd, Cécile de France, Javier Cámara, Ludivine Sagnier, Toni Bertorelli and James Cromwell.

This all sounds vaguely sane and even mildly intriguing, until you watch the latest trailer, released last week:


From a review in The Hollywood Reporter:

Could he be about to turn the Church into an extremist, fundamentalist organization? One thing is sure: his message has nothing in common with the love and brotherhood preached by the current Pope Francis.

Other alarming things: he drinks American filter coffee and breakfasts on Cherry Coke Zero. Oh, and he also wants to check out all the gifts sent to him, like an appalling kangaroo he has released in the Vatican gardens.


But the story is just warming up, and one has the feeling the Pontiff is so unpredictable he could swing either way, to God or Mammon. In a scene high up on the dome of St. Peter’s, he tempts his humble confessor with immense power if he’ll break the secret of the confessional and tell him all the cardinals’ sins, at the same time informing him that he personally doesn’t believe in God. The poor priest is so shocked he has to backtrack. Tipping into the outrageous, this scene may prove to be the limit for some devout Catholics, but one has to wait and see if some redemption is in store for Lenny.

Might be good for a laugh, unless I just want to wait for “Silicon Valley” to come back.

Image: Courtesy HBO

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About Author

A native of the Adirondacks and Saratoga Springs in northern New York State, journalist and fiction writer Kate O'Hare now lives in Los Angeles, where she's on a neverending quest to find a parish in the L.A. Archdiocese with orthodox preaching, excellent traditional music and parking.



    The series is actually very good. Pius XIII’s proclaiming that homosexual marriages can be witnessed in the Church, that abortion is fine, etc. And you sit, slack-jawed, as he continues and then the fevered Lenny awakes from his nightmare.

    It’s a wise thing to remember that this is not a true story. It’s also wise to ponder the “what if….” I suppose that if you’re not so certain of your faith that you might feel the series – hmm – scary?

    If Ms O’Hare writes fiction, I’m surprised she doesn’t ‘get it.’ The Hollywood Reporter calling a kangaroo ‘appalling’? I’ve yet to meet a kangaroo that I’ve not found delightful. Is the Pope a Saint? Could be. When he whispers to the kangaroo “jump,” the roo jumps. It’s possible that this wise prayerful pontiff might be the finest to sit on St. Peter’s chair – yes, a Saint – but there are times that you may doubt. Thus far I have not seen Pius XIII commit any sin, I’ve only wondered at his complexity.

    If you’re comfortable with your faith and not frightened of kangaroos, this can be the best Church fictional drama that you have ever seen. Or not.

    • We haven’t seen the series yet in the U.S., so I’m going from what I’ve got, which looks pretty weird. Nobody’s scared of this series, least of all me. It just looks silly. But I’ll weigh in again when HBO makes it available.

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