The Young Pope

Last updated

The Young Pope
The Young Pope.png
Promotional poster
Genre Drama
Created by Paolo Sorrentino
Written by
  • Paolo Sorrentino
  • Stefano Rulli
  • Tony Grisoni
  • Umberto Contarello
Directed byPaolo Sorrentino
Opening theme"Watchtower" (Instrumental) prod. by Labrinth
Composer Lele Marchitelli
Country of origin
  • Italy
  • France
  • Spain
Original languages
  • English
  • Italian
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes10 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Lorenzo Mieli
  • Mario Gianani
  • Viola Prestieri
  • Paolo Sorrentino
  • Caroline Benjo
  • Carole Scotta
  • Simon Arnal
  • Jaume Roures
  • Javier Méndez
  • Tony Grisoni
  • John Lyons
  • Ron Bozman (pilot)
  • Nils Hartmann
  • Sonia Rovai
  • Roberto Amoroso
Production locations
Cinematography Luca Bigazzi
EditorCristiano Travaglioli
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time46–60 minutes
Production companies
Distributor FremantleMedia
Original network
Picture format
First shown inItaly
Original release21 October (2016-10-21) 
18 November 2016 (2016-11-18)
Followed by The New Pope

The Young Pope is a drama television series created and directed by Paolo Sorrentino for Sky Atlantic, HBO, and Canal+. The series stars Jude Law as the disruptive Pope Pius XIII and Diane Keaton as his confidante, Sister Mary, in a Vatican full of intrigues. [1] The series was co-produced by the European production companies Wildside, Haut et Court TV, and Mediapro.


The world premiere of The Young Pope was on 3 September 2016 at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, where the first two episodes were screened out of competition, the first time in the history of the festival that a TV series has been a part of the program. [2] The series premiered on television on 21 October 2016 on Sky Atlantic in Italy.

Originally designed as a limited series, The Young Pope was marketed as such especially in the United States. [3] However, Wildside producer Lorenzo Mieli announced on 20 October 2016 that a second season of the series was in development. [4] Later, the project was revealed to be a follow-up miniseries called The New Pope , with Law returning and joined by John Malkovich. [5] Production began in Italy in late 2018. [6]

On 14 July 2017, The Young Pope received two nominations for the 69th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, becoming the first Italian TV series to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. [7]


A young cardinal, Lenny Belardo, becomes pope of the Catholic Church when machinations of the leading contenders to gain the position themselves fail. He takes the name of Pius XIII and proceeds to challenge the established traditions and practices of the Vatican. He installs Sister Mary, the nun who raised him in an orphanage, to serve as his chief adviser. Driven by his desire to confront his parents, who abandoned him as a boy, Belardo takes the church in a new conservative direction, causing disruption inside and outside the Vatican.





  • Allison Case as young Sister Mary
  • Frank Gingerich as young Lenny Belardo
  • Olivia Macklin as Lenny Belardo's mother
  • Jack McQuaid as young Andrew Dussolier
  • Collin Smith as Lenny Belardo's father
  • Ann Darlington Carr as the Custodian's wife, miraculously cured by Balardo's prayer
  • Brian Keane as the Custodian



No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateItalian viewers
(millions) [lower-alpha 1]
1"Episode 1" Paolo Sorrentino Paolo Sorrentino21 October 2016 (2016-10-21)0.743 [9]
0.953 (o.n.) [10]
Lenny Belardo becomes the first American Pope and takes the name of Pius XIII. Shortly after his election, he causes upheaval in the Vatican with his desire to reject both publicity and the liberal philosophy of his predecessor. Sister Mary, the nun who raised Lenny, is brought in as his personal secretary, and immediately establishes herself as the chief rival of the powerful Cardinal Voiello, the Vatican's Secretary of State. Cardinal Spencer, Lenny's mentor and the original favourite for the papacy, is distraught over his loss in the Papal election.
2"Episode 2"Paolo SorrentinoPaolo Sorrentino21 October 2016 (2016-10-21)0.743 [9]
0.953 (o.n.) [10]
Lenny shocks the world with his first address, in which he demands Catholics worldwide devote themselves body and soul to God, no matter the consequences. Sister Mary and Cardinal Voiello struggle to control Lenny, who admits that his conservative religious views result from his parents' decision to place him in a Catholic orphanage so they could pursue a hedonistic lifestyle.
3"Episode 3"Paolo SorrentinoPaolo Sorrentino and Stefano Rulli28 October 2016 (2016-10-28)0.517 [11]
Lenny plans to lead a resurgence of conservative Christianity despite the efforts of Spencer and Voiello. Lenny forces Voiello to reveal that liberal forces in the College of Cardinals blocked the conservative Spencer's election as Pope, resulting in an agreement between the two men to use Lenny as a puppet. When Lenny threatens to excommunicate Voiello, the liberal cardinal is forced to swear loyalty to him. Later, during a chance encounter with Esther, the wife of a Pontifical Swiss Guard, Lenny collapses.
4"Episode 4"Paolo SorrentinoPaolo Sorrentino and Stefano Rulli28 October 2016 (2016-10-28)0.517 [11]
Lenny arranges for a nun's sister to be brought to the Vatican for burial, then berates the nun at the funeral for crying, accusing her of not believing in God. At Voiello's instigation, Spencer attempts to manipulate Lenny, who then denies him a promotion and severs ties with him. Voiello arranges for Esther to work as an assistant to the Pope in the hope that they will develop a sexual relationship that he can exploit to his advantage. However, Lenny is not tempted and prays to God to help her conceive a child with her lover. Lenny's comments about the gay aide to the attractive female prime minister of Greenland and the fact that the cardinals ignore her lead him to threaten to expel homosexuals from the Vatican, which horrifies Voiello. Lenny is also suspicious of the intentions of Sofia, head of the Vatican's marketing branch and his closest ally outside the priesthood.
5"Episode 5"Paolo SorrentinoPaolo Sorrentino4 November 2016 (2016-11-04)0.508 [12]
Lenny sidesteps Esther's sexual advances, thwarting Voiello's persistent machinations to bring him down with an illicit sex scandal. Lenny reveals that he already knows everyone's secrets, including those of Voiello, Gutierrez, and Tommaso. The papal tiara arrives, and Lenny finally addresses the cardinals. He controversially announces that the Catholic Church will no longer compromise merely to appease its followers, but will instead become more hard-line and inflexible, dedicating itself to the service of God.
6"Episode 6"Paolo SorrentinoPaolo Sorrentino4 November 2016 (2016-11-04)0.508 [12]
Six months later, after the birth of Esther's baby, and nine months into his papacy, Voiello warns Lenny that the Church is losing followers. Lenny finally grants an audience with the Prime Minister of Italy, a man of similar age and attractiveness as Lenny. He gives the prime minister a list of shocking and preposterous demands to favour the Church using political blackmail, but the prime minister rejects Lenny's demands. Lenny forces Cardinal Dussolier, his childhood friend and now the cardinal in charge of approving new priests, to block the entrance of new priests who do not adhere to clerical celibacy, regardless of their sexual persuasion. A young seminarian is denied admittance and distraught, he commits suicide in St. Peter's Square.
7"Episode 7"Paolo SorrentinoPaolo Sorrentino and Tony Grisoni 11 November 2016 (2016-11-11)0.490 [13]
Voiello and Dussolier desperately try to make Lenny see the disaster he is unleashing by marginalising the Church. Sister Mary seeks Voiello's support to save the Church, deeply impressing him. Lenny is shocked and excited by the prospect of reuniting with his parents after receiving a gift indicating that they wish to see him, but he exposes them as fakes. The cardinals cut a deal with Spencer, who has a heart-to-heart with Lenny who agrees to resign. Racked by guilt, Dussolier returns to Honduras, but he is killed by a drug lord who felt disrespected because Dussolier had sex with his wife.
8"Episode 8"Paolo SorrentinoPaolo Sorrentino and Tony Grisoni11 November 2016 (2016-11-11)0.490 [13]
Lenny prays for Dussolier's soul while Sister Mary weeps bitter tears. Sofia counsels the Pope to visit Sister Antonia, a well-publicized missionary in Africa, and surprisingly he agrees. En route, the press are frustrated at Lenny's failure to appear and a journalist asks a pointed question which indicates to Voiello that Kurtwell might be blackmailing the Pontiff. In Africa, the Pope becomes suspicious of Sister Antonia's professed piety and her support for the country's dictator. After his failed confession to an African priest who does not understand English, the priest passes Lenny a note accusing Sister Antonia of controlling and manipulating the water supply. Now aware of local injustices, Lenny delivers an inspiring speech to the country's populace about war and peace, with pointed warnings to its dictator and Sister Antonia. As the Pope's entourage departs, Antonia dies after she drinks from her personal water supply.
9"Episode 9"Paolo SorrentinoUmberto Contarello and Paolo Sorrentino18 November 2016 (2016-11-18)0.550 [14]
In New York City, Cardinal Gutierrez, is convinced of Kurtwell's guilt and desperately tries to convince his former victims to testify, but without success. Meanwhile, as Spencer lies dying in the Vatican, Lenny agrees to relate the miracle he performed as a teenager, successfully imploring God to save a friend's mother from certain death. Back in New York, Gutierrez resorts to unsavoury tactics, entrapping Kurtwell in a compromising homosexual situation. In desperation, Kurtwell releases his blackmail material on Lenny, love letters to a young woman. Kurtwell's overconfidence proves his undoing as Lenny never sent the letters. However, they are so beautiful that after they are published they become an instant sensation. Gutierrez unceremoniously bundles Kurtwell back to the Vatican.
10"Episode 10"Paolo SorrentinoUmberto Contarello and Paolo Sorrentino18 November 2016 (2016-11-18)0.550 [14]
Impressed with his new conviction and sense of maturity, Lenny asks Gutierrez to take over as his personal secretary, prepared to overlook his homosexuality, however he banishes Kurtwell to Alaska for his sins against children. Lenny reconciles with Sister Mary and sends her to Africa to take Antonia's place and to be with orphans again. After learning that he himself may be considered for sainthood one day, Lenny agrees to spend Christmas in Guatemala among the patients of Beata Juana. At the last minute, however, Lenny decides to face his demons and heads for Venice instead. At the Basilica San Marco, the Pope finally reveals his face, appearing before thousands of people in the piazza using Beata Juana's words to deliver a homily that touches the crowds and the cardinals alike. However, after seeing a couple in the crowd that looks like his parents, the young pope collapses, leaving his future and that of the Church uncertain.


The Young Pope, the first TV series by Paolo Sorrentino, was produced by Lorenzo Mieli and Mario Gianani, together with the French company Haut et Court TV and the Spanish company Mediapro. [15] The project was financed by Sky, Canal+ and HBO, which contributed 40 million euros, with part of the money coming from the European Regional Development Fund. Production took three years between 2014 and 2016. [16] [17]

The script was written by Sorrentino, Stefano Rulli, Tony Grisoni and Umberto Contarello. [18] The cast, announced between July and August 2015, includes Jude Law as the young pope; Diane Keaton as Sister Mary; James Cromwell, Silvio Orlando, Scott Shepherd, Javier Cámara and Toni Bertorelli. It also includes Cécile de France, Ludivine Sagnier, Guy Boyd, Andre Gregory, Sebastian Roché, Marcello Romolo, Ignazio Oliva, Vladimir Bibic, Daniel Vivian and Nadie Kammalaweera. [19] [1] The main character is almost always seen only from the waist up, to give the impression that he might be soaring. Sorrentino said he inherited this technique from Spike Lee. [20]

Principal photography, which took seven months, started in August 2015 and took place mainly in the Cinecittà studios, where the interior of the Vatican was recreated. Exterior shots and garden scenes were taken at a number of villas, primarily Villa Lante (Bagnaia), Villa Medici, and Orto Botanico dell'Università di Roma "La Sapienza", while some interior shots were also taken inside Palazzo Venezia. [16] [17] [20] Parts of the last episode were shot in piazza San Marco in Venice. [21]


The series premiered on 21 October 2016 on Sky Atlantic in Italy and Sky Atlantic in Germany and Austria, on 27 October 2016 on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and Ireland, on 28 October 2016 on HBO Europe in various European countries, and on 15 January 2017 on HBO and HBO Canada in the United States and Canada. [22] [23] It premiered in Australia on SBS Television on 29 April 2017. [24] In India it was telecast on ZeeCafe.[ citation needed ]


The Young Pope received positive reviews in the UK, [25] [26] Ireland, [27] and Italy. [28] Jude Law's performance has garnered praise by Jasper Rees of The Daily Telegraph , [29] while the Italian weekly Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana objected to "caricature-like characters created to appeal to an American audience". [30] [31] [32]

On US review aggregator Metacritic, it has a rating of 68, indicating "generally favorable reviews". [33] The show also currently has a 79% positive rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes combining 76 reviews. [34] Its "Critics Consensus": "The Young Pope's original premise and stylish blend of over-the-top melodrama with profane comedy helps overcome an occasionally muddled plot."

Some Catholic reviewers were put off by what they perceived as the series' anti-Catholic stance. [35] Such critics took issue with a presentation of the Church they found to be caricatural and "cartoonish". [36] Other reviewers complained about anti-Catholicism in the entertainment industry more broadly. [37] However, some conservative reviewers praised the show for its portrayal of tradition and authentic religious devotion. [38] [39]

Audience viewership

In Italy, the two-hour premiere drew the highest rating ever for the pay TV network Sky. With 953,000 viewers overnight, it beat the initial release of Gomorrah and the Italian release of Game of Thrones . [30] [40]

Awards and nominations

2017 69th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie Luca Bigazzi, Director of PhotographyNominated [41]
Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More) Ludovica Ferrario, Production Designer
Alexandro Maria Santucci, Art Director
Laura Casalini, Set Decorator
2017 75th Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Jude Law Nominated

Home media release

DVD release date Blu-ray release date
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4 Region A Region B
6 June 2017 [42] [43] 26 December 2016 [44] 28 June 2017 [45] 6 June 2017 [46] [47] 26 December 2016 [48]


  1. Combined viewers of simulcast on Sky Atlantic and Sky Cinema 1.

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