Young Pope: Oscar-Winning Director Sorrentino (Great Beauty) on his HBO Series

Venice Film Fest 2016–World Premieres

Will there be a Vatican ideological backlash against The Young Pope, the new, bold and audacious TV series from Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino?

That was the question at the Venice Film Fest, following the world premiere of the first two episodes of the show, which stars UK Oscar nominated actor Jude Law as the conservative American Cardinal Lenny Belardo, who becomes Pius XIII, the first American pope in history.


The Young Pope was produced by Wildside and co-produced by Haut et Court TV and Mediapro.

The first two episodes of the series premiered at the Venice Fest to rave reviews.  Critics were impressed with the portrayal of Law as the fictional American pope, a conservative figurehead who seems determined to change radically the culture–ethos, mores, and routines–of the Vatican.


As written by Sorrentino, the pope is a chain-smoking irrational man with an unconventional (to say the least) approach to religion and unorthodox strategies when it comes to routine tasks.


Law plays the pope as a mean and morally torn, drinks cherry Coke Zero at breakfast, but also makes the most out of his papal wardrobe, including red leather loafers.

The show created early buzz out of Venice. “I’m sure someone somewhere is going to be offended by it, but that’s what storytelling is about. Opening discussions, openly, freely and diplomatically … I’m all for that,” said Law in an interview. the_young_pope_6_sorrentino_law

Sorrentino said in Venice that his goal was to tackle the topic with curiosity rather than provocation.  The fact that the anti-heroic protagonist is the opposite of Francis is not accidental.  “It’s possible that after a very liberal pope, there is someone that might have very different ideas. I think it’s an illusion that the church as a long-term idea towards modernity,” he said.


Challenged about the portrayal, the Italian director replied: “It’s the Vatican’s problem, not mine.  But it’s not even a problem. If they watch it to the end, they will see that it’s a piece that tackles their world with curiosity but also honesty.”


“It doesn’t want to display any form of prejudice or intolerance,” Sorrentino added. “Rather it probes with honesty and curiosity within the constraints of 10 episodes, the contradictions and the difficulties, and also the fascinating aspects, of the clergy.”

For Law, playing Pius XIII, one his meatiest roles in years, “was an opportunity to work with Paolo, and an opportunity to play a character with plenty of contradiction and contrast.”

“The joy was to be able to play a complicated multi-layered character; and on top of that play a character playing a character, because in a way, like me playing Lenny, Lenny was playing the pope,” Law added.


Sorrentino revealed that Pius XIII smokes, “because I knew that Joseph Ratzinger smoked.” Ratzinger also wore red shoes when he was Pope Benedict XVI.

That is not the current pontiff’s style, which is much more likable, proletarian, and people-oriented.  “The pope we depicted is diametrically opposed to the existing pope,” said Sorrentino. “But after a progressive pope it’s in the order of things that you could get a pope with different ideas. Our pope is not unlikely–in a not too distant future a similar pope could emerge.”

Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando and James Cromwell also star. 


Reportedly, the producers of the show worked with consultants from the Catholic Church throughout the production process for season 1. 

The first season benefited from a large budget of $45 million, making it Italy’s most expensive TV production ever. 

FremantleMedia sold the 10 episodes show globally in more than 80 countries. The Sky, HBO, and Canal Plus original production will play on Sky in Italy on October 21. It will air at the end of October on Sky in the U.K., Germany, Ireland and Austria, and on Canal Plus in France.