The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles, 2019, UK/Italy/Argentina/USA)

               The Two Popes is a perfectly entertaining albeit workmanlike film exploring a fictional series of meetings that occurred between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, prior to Benedict’s historic stepping down from his role in 2013. The film – while not particularly deep – is anchored by two charming performances from veteran actors Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis. Watching their bromance unfold over the course of the film – even if fictional – is worth the price of admission.
               That being said, The Two Popes is not a particularly deep film. For one, it gives very little investigation into the scandals in which Benedict’s papacy was embroiled. These scandals are shown only on a surface level. Secondly, anyone vaguely familiar with the Catholic church will generally understand the progressive/conservative dialogue at the heart of the film – it isn’t terribly complex. Anthony McCarten’s script manages to stretch this conflict for all it’s worth.
               The Two Popes is remarkably soft on Benedict as a whole, instead devoting much of its attention to the life and story of Pope Francis. While this retelling of Francis’s story sometimes verges on the hagiographic, it at least relates the moral dilemmas Francis faced while working with the military junta in Argentina, and the trouble this caused for his reputation among the Jesuits and others in Argentina. The film also shows Francis’s early decision to enter the priesthood, retold in black and white.
               While the bond that emerges between Benedict and Francis is somehow contrived, it is made believable through Hopkins and Pryce. Meirelles does his best to keep the proceedings lively, placing the two characters in beautiful settings, or cutting between various camera angles. But Hopkins and Pryce do most of the work. Hopkins’ gradual warming up to Pryce is played very well, and Pryce’s reluctant desire to take on the role is also delivered convincingly.



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