The Two Popes
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Talent: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins
Release: 29 November
Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (soon to be Pope Francis I) travels to the Pope’s palatial holiday home, seeking to request permission for retirement. Pope Benedict XVI has long been vexed by Begoglio’s tacit criticism of his papacy, Bergoglio being the supposed liberal to Benedict’s hardline conservatism. Initially, the two men spar amusingly, with Benedict unleashing some barbs and Bergolio calmly refuting the value of the course the church is on. Bergoglio’s retirement would seem like a renunciation of Benedict’s papacy, so Benedict remains coy about granting it. Hey, maybe he has other plans for this cardinal? Any idea what they might be?
However true this fairly treacly film is, it passes the time well enough, mainly thanks to Pryce and Hopkins, who are on top form. Hopkins plays Benedict as circumspect and square – the Pontiff doesn’t have a notion who The Beatles are, but can play the piano beautifully. Pryce is benignly ironical, chatting earthily to gardeners, but at times vigorously giving vent to deeply-held beliefs.
Early on, the edgier film this could have been is hinted at. The galling issue of child sexual abuse in the church is raised, but later, when a revelation is made about how certain people looked away, the mournful score infuriatingly drowns out the details. This felt like the filmmakers had only been paying lip service, not wanting bad vibes to spoil the warmth the film generates later on. Needless to say, obfuscating details of child abuse is not a good look.
The momentum kind of stalls in the third act with the odd-couple comedy swapped for Pope Francis’s controversial backstory. But when we do return to them, I was surprised how quietly moving I found their compassion to one another.
In a world in which the pseudo-righteous take a morbid pleasure in calling people out, it’s interesting to see how Christian values can be less pious than the secular horde. A softness envelops the last act that I found disarming and unexpectedly moving. Two men holding each other in forgiveness felt quietly radical in 2019.
A bit toothless and chaster than its central characters, but likeable and entertaining nonetheless.
Words: Rory Kiberd