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Popes on the Silver Screen


Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 11/26/14

Paul VI: The Pope in the Tempest and Neri Marcore plays Pope John Paul I in Pope John Paul I: The Smile of God.

Gielgud played a third pope in the film Elizabeth  about the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. This time he played the intransigent Pope Paul IV. One of Paul IV’s predecessors, Paul III also tangled with the Tudors, and he was played by veteran actor Peter O’Toole in the television series The Tudors.

Along with the fictional Pope Kiril in The Shoes of the Fisherman there is the farcical The Pope Must Die featuring British comic Robbie Coltrane and the film Pope Joan which is even more farcical because it tries to be serious and historical.

Watching papal performances on film is a reminder of how the rich history of the Catholic church is played out by the simple humanity of men who walked in the shoes of the fisherman. As actors played the role of the popel so each man who was elected pope stepped into a role that was bigger than himself. If the men who became pope did so with humanity and humility then each one of us has our own role to play in the greater drama of God’s interaction with the human race.

I think I’ve catalogued the portrayals of the papacy on film. However, if there are any omissions—if the see is vacant—I hope readers will use the comments box to fill in what is missing.

Fr Dwight Longenecker blogs at Standing on My Head. His latest book comes out in time for Lent. In Slubgrip Instructs a diabolical professor instructs his students on how to corrupt popular culture. Connect with Fr Longenecker at

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