Is The Young Pope Based On A True Story?

Photo: Gianni Fiorito/ HBO.
Like Westworld, HBO's latest creative venture, The Young Pope is not based on a true story.

Jude Law plays Lenny Belardo, also known as Pius XIII, the first American Pope in history — and the youngest. He is calculating, spiritual, and devious. And while he's not based on one specific past pope, his seedy behavior could be compared to certain members of Catholic church. But that's for another day.

Because of the show's realistic setting (it was filmed in Rome, and the producers even remade an exact replica of the Sistine Chapel for the limited series) it makes sense to wonder about the authenticity of Law's character. So, even though there was no real Pius XIII (or any American popes for that matter), there have definitely been a few intriguing young popes, as The Observer points out, who have shaken the walls of the Vatican.

One of the most controversial of these pontiffs was the real-life youngest pope, Theophylactus of Tusculum, and he was even more of a thorn in the side of the church than the fictional pope could ever be according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. At the tender age of 12 (or 20, depending on historical records) Tusculum became Pope Benedict IX in 1032. And apparently, he was the absolute worst.

The site dubs him "a disgrace to the Chair of Peter" (referring to the apostle, Peter, who is the Biblical root of the papal practice). While pope, the young man left his papal role twice, eventually pawning off his title and selling it to another man during his third term as pope. He also led a "dissolute life" and was a "demon from hell," according to the writings of historian Ferdinand Gregorovius.

And suddenly, Jude Law's fictional pope is looking pretty saintly.

The Young Pope premieres on HBO January 15.
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