Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujín
Behind the walls of the Vatican, the conservative Pope Benedict (Hopkins) and the more liberal future Pope Francis (Pryce) must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.
Though a film that is basically about the current pope and his immediate successor wandering around various buildings having a bit of chinwag may not seem like something that would produce compelling viewing, thanks a to a great script, good camerawork and two colossal performances, The Two Popes is an engaging and rewarding viewing experience for all viewers irrespective of their views or knowledge of the catholic church, or indeed religion in general.
Of course the succession from Pope Benedict to Pope Francis is very unique in that Pope Benedict didn’t actually die, but gave up the role and (according to this film) choose Pope Francis as his successor – though he did of course have to go through the traditional democratic process to become pope. They were two individuals who showed equal devotion to their religion, but with very different approaches during what was a very turbulent time for the catholic church. The film certainly explores this, but in an impressively inclusive way that will allow those that know very little about the two individual protagonists to appreciate the two characters and their reasons for their individual views. We are given some backstory to Pope Francis and why he is the way he is – and this allows the viewer to understand him and sympathise with him. Pope Benedict gets less backstory but is not portrayed in anyway as a generic ‘bad guy’, but also gets to justify himself as the narrative develops.
The Two Popes is based on a true story (the key word being ‘based’) and so certainly has some playful fun with the conflicting personalities of the two protagonists that often produces some very funny and human moments. The two of them do of course have some very serious conversations, but no matter what the religion (or indeed views on religion) of the viewer, Anthony McCarten’s script manages to be involving and inclusive, depicting both of the protagonists as flawed human beings that just discuss relatable topics about the human condition.
As the two popes, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are predictability excellent, blatantly relishing not only their respective lines of dialogue, but also pushing each other and enjoying it. Though Hopkins certainly does not even attempt the strong German accent that Pope Benedict had, he is still a wonderful and engaging screen presence. At the time when Pope Francis was announced as the new Pope he was apparently mistaken for Jonathan Pryce, and it is easy to see why; Pryce is a magnetic screen presence and watching these two great actors on screen together is a pleasure to watch.
As the story goes on the film does manage achieve a good balance between the serious and the comic, but the more comic moments never undermine the serious moments, but instead just make the characters feel all the more engaging and well, human. Scenes involving the two of them sharing a pizza or watching a football match are particular highlights of what is a unique film that manages to have plenty of thoughtful substance on a plethora of subjects, but also be compelling viewing.
Despite a premise that may not seem particularly appealing; Thanks to a great script and two titanic leading performances The Two Popes is an inclusive, entertaining and engaging experience from start to finish.