While on stage before the screening of the film, Jonathan Pryce said he agreed to do this Netflix film because Fernando Meirelles (Blindness, The Constant Gardner) was directing it and if he was directing a film about two popes it would not just be two old guys sitting around talking. Now, that is mostly true in that it is not just Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins – from television’s Westworld) and Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce – The Wife, Evita) sitting around talking (which they do do quite a bit), the film delves into how each became pope as well a much of the back story of the Argentinian cardinal. It is also an interesting study of the evolution of the Catholic Church – a change from the traditional to the revolutionary.
The man who is named the religious leader of the approximately 1.2 billion Catholics is a powerful man. Which is why when one dies there is quite a to do about the naming of his successor. After the death of John Paul II in 2005, the cardinals began a conclave which finally named German Cardinal Ratzinger pope. From the beginning he and the Argentinian cardinal Begoglio clashed. Ratzinger was a conservative and a traditionalist, whereas Bergoglio was progressive.
Each went on their seperate ways with Cardinal Begoglio continuing to be a vocal opponent of the sticking to the age old traditions of the Catholic Church. He wanted it to deal with issues of poverty, corruption, climate change, social justice, and loosening of the formalities around the Pope.
In 2012, he decided he wanted to retire as cardinal and just return to being a priest of the people. Bergoglio wrote a letter to Pope Benedict asking for his permission to retire, but heard nothing. Just after he bought a ticket to Rome, he got an official invitation from the Pope. The two talked. Bergoglio asked Pope Benedict in person several times for his permission to retire as a cardinal and Benedict either ignored him or refused.
This called for being persuasive on the part of Bergoglio. So he and Pope Benedict would have to spend some time together. Dicuss the church and their viewpoints of it. Often it was a case of a traditionalist versus a liberal. Old versus new. A man who did not believe that the Catholic Church should change for fear of being perceived as being weak while the other firmly believed that it should adapt to the needs of its followers.
As such they spent quite a bit of time together over the next few days. In the end they have a new appreciation of the other though Pope Benedict still refuses Bergoglio’s request and has a shocking confession of his own to spill.
A film like this, even if it is drama loosely based on the lives of these two men, makes you feel like you know a little bit more about the lives of Popes Benedict and Francis. Allows you to imagine what might have happened or really been said during those conversations.
The Two Popes, though well directed and written, is really all about the two men playing the popes. This is basically an acting class. The two, Price and Hopkins, go toe to toe again and again in scenes which requires of them to be at the top of their games. And they prove they are. Wonderful to watch two such skilled actors who are able to completely keep our attention in scenes where they are just sitting down and talking. The instill plenty of humanity into these two men. Men who we normally don’t get to know.
Painting neither of men as the villains really does each a service. You cannot simple dismiss Benedict as a man who had plenty of scandal around him and was a narrow minded conservative. He is more fleshed out here. Yes, harsh, but also love music and playing the piano. Bergoglio, who would go on to be Pope Francis, is not all good either having made some controversial decisions during the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s. Both men are showed to be flawed, which makes they human. And as such very watchable.