The Two Popes – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Stars: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujín
No pope had retired since Pope Gregory VI in 1046. Therefore the decision of Pope Benedict XVI on 11th February 2013 to announce (in Latin) his decision to retire as pope took the world by surprise. Following the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope Francis to succeed him there has been since then, for the first time in almost a thousand years, two popes alive at the same time. It is this extraordinary circumstance which has inspired Anthony McCarten to imagine how this came to pass. To do so he uses a mixture of known fact liberally mixed with speculation about private conversations that may or may not have happened between these two men. What is known from their public utterances and preferences is that they are two men cut from different cloth.
The script is such that the film is almost a two-hander between Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis. The film recounts how Benedict came to power following the death of Pope John Paul II but tells very little about his prior life. In contrast, through flashbacks, we learn a good deal of information about Bergoglio’s earlier life and his actions in the political hothouse of Argentina. Onto this base, McCarten’s script tells a story of the relationship that gradually developed between Cardinal Bergoglio and Pope Benedict. It is replete with their different social attitudes and personal pleasures laced with a good deal of wry humour. All of this is set against the theatrical magnificence of the Vatican and its architectural glories with the colour of scarlet playing a prominent role.
Hopkins and Pryce are, as actors, masters of their craft. As each is playing a pope it gives each the opportunity to display the subtlety of their expertise as they interact. Notwithstanding that these conversations must be on the imaginary side they make for compelling viewing. The story as told makes for a rivetting and fascinating film about an unlikely event.