Saturday, April 2, 2005

Pope John Paul II's Movies

The Jeweler’s Shop and Our God’s Brother 




As is well known, the man who would become Pope John Paul II (1920 - 2005), was very involved in the theater during his youth, as a writer and actor. This is an interest he has continued throughout his life, always remaining a spiritual mentor for those in the performing arts, from cinema, to the circus. Two films have been made from his plays: The Jeweler’s Shop (1988) and Our God’s Brother (1997). 


" Karol Sr. had inculcated in his son a love for Poland’s literateurs. It came as no surprise, then that, as a student, the young man took to the theater and to acting with depth and devotion—even at the risk of arrest and execution in wartime Poland. Twice a week he and the "Theater of the Living Word" clandestinely rehearsed and performed, committed to peaceful resistance and to keeping alive the nation’s cultural heritage." (from


The Jeweler’s Shop


In 1960 Karol Wjotyla published  a play in a Polish magazine called The Jeweler’s Shop: A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion into a Drama"  .


The Jeweler’s Shop was adapted and made into a film in 1988, starring Burt Lancaster, Olivia Hussey, Jonathan Crombie, Ben Cross, etc. It was directed by Michael Anderson (Shoes of the Fisherman).


The story is in three acts as are all movies and plays; here the structure is very obvious. In the first, a couple falls in love just before World War II and buy a wedding ring amid signs that a dark time coming. The jeweler (Lancaster) tells them: "the weight of these golden rings is not the weight of metal but the proper weight of man [and woman], each of you separately and both together." In the second act, another couple grows apart because each partner is succumbs to ego; each blames the other. The woman decides to return her wedding ring to the same jeweler, but it weighs nothing on the scales. In the third act the children of these two couples meet and fall in love. Each one has issues stemming from their parents and upbringing. These are eventually resolved in hope with each of the young people deciding to try and grow beyond what limits them so they can marry in freedom of spirit


The play revolves around the role that ego plays in human relationships, especially marriage.


When I first saw the film I admired it on the one hand because it was written by the Pope. On the other, it was not the best film I had ever seen. In my memory it seemed stilted and somewhat obvious. Nevertheless, if we read or watch The Jeweler’s Shop within the context of John Paul II’sbody of philosophical, theological, and pastoral work and teachings, the play is remarkable for our times. He has taken one of the basic theses of his teaching, the balance between freedom and responsibility in human activity, and incarnated it through art.


I think the filmmakers wanted to remain very faithful to the original out of respect for the author. But maybe someday someone will remake this little gem into a film that will get everyone’s attention.


Our God’s Brother


The Polish/Catholic director Krzysztof Zanussi directed the second of Pope John Paul II’s plays-into-film, Our God’s Brother in 1997. According to the one review I could find, it is the story of the 19th century Polish painter Adam Cimelowski who gave up his promising artistic career for the service of God. The film was never released in the United States.


For more information on the particulars of the films, visit


Unfortunately, the video/DVD of The Jeweler’s Shop is not available at this time. The book is available, however, on Amazon or at your local Catholic bookstore.


(I even checked on for used copies of The Jeweler's Shop, but no one is selling at this time. As we can imagine, folks probably want to hold on to their copies as the Pope's health declines so rapidly.)


For more about the Pope as actor, writer and poet, visit  

On a personal note, I was priviledged to be part of a pilgrimage group of our sisters (Daughters of St. Paul) who had a private audience and Mass with the Pope at his summer residence at Castel Gondolfo on September 2, 1981. We were the first group to be received privately after the assasination attempt on his life the previous May. It was a time I will always remember. 

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