Genuflect to The New Pope. The continuation of HBO’s The Young Pope stars John Malkovich as Pope John Paul III, the church’s presumed replacement now that Jude Law’s Pope Pius XIII (formerly Lenny Belardo) is in a coma after the events of the finale. The man formerly known as Sir John Brannox is quite a character. When we first see the rich Catholic Cardinal primed to be the supreme pontiff he’s got mascara smeared under his eyes. Let’s assume it’s not from worshipping the Holy Father into the wee hours of the morning. His new friendship with Marilyn Manson, who shows up this season, may also have Vatican officials clutching their rosaries. So, is The New Pope based on a true story?
Like The Young Pope before it, The New Pope is not based on a true story. Instead, director Paolo Sorrentino takes liberties with this church-focused story that combines a little fact with fiction. This modern papal satire features characters that will remind you of real-life people in the church such as Lenny’s right-hand man, Voiello (Silvio Orlando), who is a dead ringer for Pope Francis right down to his love of soccer.
Even the new pope’s name is a callback. Malkovich’s John Paul III is the successor to Pope John Paul II, who was the head of the church from 1978 to his death in 2005. The late pope, who was canonized as a saint in 2014, was known for his focus on inclusion being the most widely traveled pope in history who was the first to visit both a synagogue and Cuba. He also looked to improve diplomatic relations between the Vatican and countries such as the U.S. In 2000, he apologized for the church's 2,000 years of mistreatment of Jews, non-Catholic Christians, women, the poor, and minorities.
John Paul III is interested in a “middle way” of leading, preaching love despite his own complicated upbringing, which could mean he’s following his namesake’s lead and looking to take the church in a new direction. Perhaps, a more woke one.
Of course, once Law’s more authoritarian pope wakes up The New Pope might turn into a successor to Netflix’s The Two Popes, which is based on the real relationship between the conservative Pope Benedict and more liberal Pope Francis.
The New Pope premieres January 13 on HBO.