The Two Popes (2019). Film review of the drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce

Two Pope football
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Drama

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review, by Jason Day, of The Two Popes, the drama that imagines conversations between then incumbent and conservative Pope Benedict XVI and the more liberal Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, soon to be Francis I. Starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce.

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Synopsis

The then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), is called to the Vatican to elect the next Pope, after the death of the beloved John Paul II.

Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) duly becomes Pope Benedict XVI but he is elderly, infirm and wants the quiet life he used to lead as a theology academic.

On a later visit, presented with flashbacks to Jorge’s past life in Argentina and his involvement in the military junta, Benedict suggests Jorge become the next Pope.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Oddly enough, I’m not religious but I’m also very fond of St Peter’s in Rome. When I’m there, I always know there’s a good meal not far away.

Quote, attributed to actor Jonathan Pryce.

Like Mr. Pryce I’m not religious either, but this didn’t stop my youthful self from once taking a look into working for the Catholic Church, being fascinated by its ritual, pageantry and the colour of the Swiss Guards harlequin uniforms.

I have worked in media relations/PR for the past 15 years and when I was still relatively new to the profession, I found out that the Vatican had a press office.

Aside from my day job I have worked as a film critic for several media outlets for the past 20 years.

Imagine then my amazement to find out that the Vatican’s press office announced a list of their greatest films ever made.

Were the planets aligning?!

Could a (then) politically mouthy man who made no secret of the fact he is gay work for such a staunchly traditional, anti-gay organisation?

Imagine all of those fascinating, dusty documents I could have had access to…

Pie in the sky thinking of course – I speak no Italian or Latin and have zero proficiency in languages, so could never apply – but my fascination with Catholicism and movies has remained, so I was really looking forward to seeing The Two Popes.

It’s a shame that the final result – essentially a very long chat between two old blokes about who is going to run their very big club – comes across as stagy and dawdling, in spite of it being ‘opened up’ for the the screen.

I found my attention wandering more than once, even with such an amusing opening.

The future Francis I (Pryce) endures an everyday nightmare for most of people – telephone customer service. Thank heavens he has taken vows of patience!

It’s telling when you think that the Pope, a man with spiritual superiority and considerable other influence over more than a billion people, can’t even call up Skyscanner to book his own flights.

Two titanic forces of British stage and screen unite for this multiple award strewn religiosity drama, but its the lesser known cinema actor who impresses most.

Pryce is a towering presence in English theatre and occasionally in TV and film proves how versatile and commanding a performer he is, such as here.

He has the slightly better character as the writer plays up his sense of humour and we see Francis I whistling ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ in the gents.

The song is also played just after this scene as the Cardinals sashay their way into Vatican City for the all important ‘smoking voting’ scene.

Hopkins seems a tad uncomfortable as Ratzinger, even though his leaden, shuffling physicality befits the character who is riddled with various physical ailments. Contrasted with Pryce, who inhabits his role entirely, Hopkins is cast in the shade.

There are some fascinating details for anyone interested in the ritual and procedures of this organisation. When Popes are elected, the nominations are placed on a golden, shell plate then tipped into a dark receptacle.

You expect Alan Dedicott to scream “Release the balls!”

When their blood is up, the writer and director play with imagery. The spearing of the needles as nominations are read out is done with the skewering skills of a serial murderer.

This matches the killer comments that Ratzinger should not become Pope because, as Plato once said: “Leaders should be those who want it least” and Ratzinger hungers for power the most.

The film concludes with a brief, documentary scene of the real life Popes meeting and embracing and then a staged scene of Pryce and Hopkins swigging beer and watching a football World Cup match between their home nations.

But given all the beauty this age old institution is wrapped in, I felt there could have been much more and the slow pace makes this a rather conventional conversation piece.

For more, see the official Netflix page.

Cast & credits

Director: Fernando Meirelles. 2hrs 5mins/125mins. Netflix. (12a).

Producers: Jonathan Eirich, Dan Lin, Tracey Seaward.
Writer: Anthony McCarten.
Camera: César Charlone.
Music: Bryce Dessner.
Sets: Mark Tildesley.

Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujín, Luis Gnecco, Cristina Banegas, María Ucedo, Renato Scarpa, Sidney Cole, Achille Brugnini.

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