Movie Review: The Two Popes (two reviews)

The Two Popes – Netflix
Starring: Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce
Director: Fernando Meirelles

Review By Charlotte Odenson

Inspired by true events, this beautifully shot film dramatizes the story behind the astonishing 2013 retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the advent of his successor Pope Francis.

The last time a Pope retired was almost 600 years ago so, as one might expect, this act was almost unprecedented, since a Pope in modern times has been expected to serve for life. Somewhat criticized for not being completely historically accurate, the film dramatizes a process of introspection and evaluation that might have been behind Pope Benedict’s decision to retire. In scenes of dialogue between the sitting Pope and the man who was to become his successor, the film shows two very different sides of the Catholic Church.

Nominated for four Golden Globe Awards (Best Actor, Jonathan Pryce; Best Supporting Actor, Anthony Hopkins; Best Screenplay, Anthony McCarten; and Best Picture), numerous other awards and Top Ten Lists, the film is beautifully shot in Italy and Argentina, with many of the actual locations, plus a replica of the Sistine Chapel built on a sound stage, which is astonishing in its authenticity.

The intimate dialogues between the conservative Pope Benedict and the progressive Cardinal (at the time) Bergoglio form the heart of the film, for a very moving look at two men of faith and their struggles to serve the 1.2 billion Catholics of the world. While addressing the concerns of the Church, these two men also converse on a more personal level, a level that demonstrates the power of confession and that of forgiveness.

As the film slants toward Jonathan Pryce’s Bergoglio as the hero of the piece, it has been criticized for unfairly making Anthony Hopkins’ Pope Benedict the more unsympathetic character. However, one can feel stirred by each man in his own way. Hopkins shows us the struggle to reach the momentous decision to retire as Pope as a battle he has won with himself.

There is no doubt that Pryce’s portrayal deserves the accolades he is receiving. Having become internationally considered one of the finest actors of both stage and screen, this film may finally earn him an Academy Award nomination if not the win.

In fact, screenwriter and three-time Oscar-nominated Anthony McCarten has written three previous scripts that resulted in a Best Actor winner in three of the past five years: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything, Gary Oldman for The Darkest Hour, and Rami Malak for Bohemian Rhapsody. He is currently nominated for a Golden Globe for his screenplay for The Two Popes.

After serving the obligatory 7 days in theatres to qualify for awards, The Two Popes can now be viewed on Netflix.


Review By Sam Field

“Our churches are beautiful but empty,” someone says to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, as they gather to select a new Pope following the death of John Paul II, “like a fire covered in ash. We need someone to blow the ash away.” But instead of a reformer, the College of Cardinals selects Cardinal Ratzinger, a hard-line conservative from Germany, who becomes Pope Benedict XVI.

For what could be a rather dull film about two elderly clerics – Benedict himself and Bergoglio who becomes Pope Francis after Benedict’s abdication in 2013 – it is a fascinating look into the oldest institution in the Western World with a 2,000-year history and more than a billion followers across the world. The abdication of Benedict, while not unprecedented, sent a shock through the church and Catholics worldwide, and set the stage for a break from the past and the emergence of a church more engaged in the problems of the world and its people.

Millions of tourists, who listen to the hushed voices in the cavernous St. Peter’s, walk the halls covered with priceless paintings and gaze up at Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel see the beauty and grandeur, but they may wish to know more about the men and women who wear the strange garments, speak Italian and Latin and follow ancient rituals from the time of Christ. And in this regard, The Two Popes delivers an inspiring, thoughtful and touching experience.

While the conversations between Popes Francis and Benedict were created by writer Anthony McCarten – the two Popes met only three times and there were no records of what was said – McCarten researched sermons, interviews and other materials by the two Pontiffs, and juxtaposed their conflicting views in face-to-face dialogue. As a credit to the authenticity of the film, the Vatican allows no filming in the Sistine Chapel, so the entire chapel was recreated full size in a Rome studio.

The film shows the church freighted with history, emerging into a turbulent 21st Century as an anchor for the faithful, but out of touch, introverted and flawed. Pope Benedict – played by Anthony Hopkins – admits he has neglected the people, and attended instead to his books and study, while Bergoglio – played by Johathan Pryce – was constantly among the people, and during Argentina’s 1976 War was accused of allowing the military junta to jail and torture priests who worked in the slums. Bergoglio emerges as a man in the service of God, hands dirty with toil but engaged in life, suffused with Christian charity and goodness, a man apart from the heavy draperies and traditions of the Holy See. According to Director Fernando Meirelles, Pope Francis is one of the few voices fighting against a dystopian world, a man who is building bridges in a time of walls.

The script, the acting and the sets are amazing, and highly recommended. Now playing on Netflix.