Witness to Hope: The Life of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II (2002)

A SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

In the crowd of TV documentaries on the life of Pope John Paul II, there is Witness to Hope, and there is everything else.

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Directed by Judith Dwan Hallet. Narrated by Rene Auberjonois. With George Weigel. PBS (TV).

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value


Age Appropriateness

Kids & Up*

MPAA Rating


Caveat Spectator

Documentary war footage including some disturbing images.

Based on George Weigel’s definitive 1000-plus page biography, Judith Dwan Hallet’s richly textured, feature-length treatment stands alone in its insight into John Paul II’s inner life, his thought and his spirituality. Speaking of other biographers, the Holy Father once commented, “They try to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside.” No biographer understands the Pope from within like Weigel.

Most documentaries mention that Wojtyla’s mentor Jan Tyranowski introduced him to St. John of the Cross. Only Witness to Hope offers any glimpse into what St. John’s Carmelite mysticism was all about or what its significance for Wojtyla might have been.

Most mention Wojtyla’s involvement in his youth in an underground cultural resistance movement during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Witness to Hope goes further, relating Wojtyla’s experiences in the Rhapsodic Theater, reading poetry aloud in private homes to preserve Polish cultural identity while German loudspeakers in the streets threatened to drown him out, to his mature belief in the spoken word as a powerful weapon against totalitarianism.

Technically and artistically, Witness to Hope also ranks above other treatments. Hallet’s directorial debut is exceptionally rich in atmosphere and period flavor for a TV biography, with well-done semi-dramatic footage and location shooting seamlessly integrated with archival footage and still photography and interviews of childhood friends, former students, and other acquaintances.

If you watch only one documentary on John Paul II, Witness to Hope is the one to watch.

Biography, Documentary, Pope Fiction and Non-fiction, Pope John Paul II, Priestly, Religious Themes, Saints & Beati