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‘The Young Pope’ has seduced millions of viewers. And it’s not Jude Law’s fault.



Miriam Diez Bosch - Jesús Colina - published on 05/08/17

As with any successful series, there is more than one reason for its fame.

The series The Young Pope, starring handsome leading man Jude Law and directed by the acclaimed director Paolo Sorrentino, has a secret. As with any successful series, there is more than one reason for its fame.

While the second season is in production, we have selected 10 factors that have contributed to the resounding success of the series, which premiered on October 21, 2016, on HBO. It hypothesizes what the Church would be like with an American pope who resists opening himself up to the modern world.

The title. The Young Pope is a strange title for a successful series, and nonetheless, it is part of the series’ charm, because it includes the idea of the “pope,” associated in our collective imagination with an elderly, pious man, and the idea of youth, creating a sort of intriguing contradiction in terms: How is it possible for a pope to be young?

Plausibility. The series is plausible, and although Sorrentino includes some surrealistic touches (like kangaroos in the Vatican Gardens), the plot seems real. Lenny Belardo, the pope in the series, looks like a supreme pontiff.  One could see some resemblance to John Paul II, or recognize some of Pope Benedict XVI’s peculiarities, and even spy some similarities to Pope Francis. The series has ecclesiastical advisors, and it shows in the series’ accurate conceptualization, history, liturgy…

The soundtrack. The music is powerful and magnetic, catchy and sometimes poetic, or surrealistic and contradictory, like the series itself.Its range of tracks includes songs as apparently out of context as “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO, and others such as “X” by Dean Blunt, “Watchtower” by Devlin, “Blues From an Airplane” by Jefferson Airplane, “I Remember” by Saint Saviour, and “Deleted Poems” by Venetian Snares.

The actors. The cast is key. Jude Law plays the role of Pope Pius XIII, the protagonist: an enigmatic, extremist, hard, impenetrable, emotionally frigid, solitary pope. Diane Keaton is a nun, Sister Mary, his personal secretary and confidential advisor: a sort of adoptive mother, to whom he grants the greatest authority among the hierarchy.

Silvio Orlando plays the role of the cardinal Secretary of State, and he incarnates perfectly the image of the College of Cardinals run the Neapolitan way.

Javier Cámara is Bernardo Gutiérrez, the master of ceremonies.

Ludivine Sagnier plays Esther, an intriguing female character who is the wife of a Swiss Guard, and one of the few people who immediately understand this very original pope. All of the characters, very well acted, help the plot seem credible.

The emotional factor. The series is not a boring, bureaucratic documentary about the Vatican. Rather, it starts off with an emotional trauma and the childhood deprivations of the future pope, which manage to give emotion, not just sentimentality, to the whole series. In this story, reason and heart will mark the rhythm of the young pope’s steps.

The cinematography. The first season has had spectacular camera work. Some moments in the series are so visually impacting on an iconic level that it is difficult to forget them. The warmth, the lighting, the synchronization with the soundtrack… These are, without a doubt, one of the secrets of the series’ success.

The strength of the series. The fact that the series was conceived as such, and created for the internet age, has given it a viral quality that it could have achieved only with difficulty as a traditional TV series. HBO, like Netflix, has understood that, on the internet, series create an even more intense connection with viewers than series from the television era.

Women. The role of women in the series is very interesting—from Diane Keaton, a key, strong woman in the pope’s life starting in his childhood, to Esther and her intuition, joined to Sophie’s determination as head of public relations or the legend of Blessed Juana. They are very different models of womanhood, and they bring a glimpse of a different perspective to the ecclesiastical institution.

Its impact among young people. This series has had a strong impact among young adults, and not necessarily those who are believers. They watch it having been seduced by its professional quality, by a powerful story, with top-notch actors and with a connection to reality.

A Church with a human face. The message that runs through the series is that there are different ways of exercising power in the Church. The pope’s conversations with different people, his discourses, the advice he gives and receives, the criticisms… These are all elements which facilitate a conversation, with the series as a starting point, about the ecclesial institution. They open a debate which, in the Pope Francis era, takes on very relevant dimensions: Should the Church close or open its doors? What is goodness? What is the meaning of evangelization?

There is no lack of Christians who have been scandalized by the presentation of the young pope. All, however, scandalized or not, find themselves faced with a question: Why has The Young Pope created such interest, particularly among young people?

4 memorable phrases from The Young Pope

– “We’ve forgotten the women and children, who will change this world with their love and their kindness.”

– “Goodness, unless combined with imagination, runs the risk of being mere exhibitionism.”

– “Are you sleeping, Holy Father?
– “No Your Eminence, I’m praying. For you.”

– “Freedom and fear are always together, like an old married couple, each willing to die for the other.”

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