Fernando Meirelles is best known for his work on 2002’s City of God and The Constant Gardener in 2005. He is back, with The Two Popes a comedy-drama featuring the meeting of Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis, and will be coming to Netflix in December.
Written by Anthony McCarten and based on his play The Pope. Whilst it is a meeting of two Popes, far more interestingly it is essentially a conversation between two figures at different ends of the political spectrum. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was seen as something of a radical in the Catholic Church, as someone who believed the church needed reforms in order to keep moving with the times and to support the poor, rather than staying stagnant. Pope Benedict however is a far more conservative figure, and disagreed with most of Bergoglio’s views. The film sees them come together as Bergoglio asks for permission to retire, but with Benedict reluctant to allow that in the wake of the sexual abuses that had taken place within the church coming to light.
Bergoglio is principally played by Jonathan Pryce, which is perfect casting on looks alone as it is easy to get them confused in some pictures, and Juan Minujín plays a younger Bergoglio in flashbacks. Meanwhile Anthony Hopkins takes on the role of Pope Benedict. Both Pryce and Hopkins are fantastic. This isn’t the film for big showy performances, instead both are far more subtle, and understated performances. It is incredible to watch two such wonderful actors, particularly in the scenes where they are together and we can watch two acting greats interacting. The flashback scenes without them certainly aren’t bad, in fact this is where a lot of the emotion in the film comes from, but you can’t help but feel like you want to get back to Pryce and Hopkins together.
And in the world as it is now with politics becoming more and more partisan and divided, The Two Popes offers an important message about the need for communication and genuine discussion. Benedict and Bergoglio are two people with differing ideologies, but over the course of the film we see them talk these out, and whilst they may not necessarily come to agree with one another, it is about them finding common ground and we see the friendship between the two grow. This is an incredibly important film, but thankfully it is not too heavy, as McCarten does an excellent job of inject plenty of humour into the film. Now it isn’t rolling in the isles, a joke a minute type of humour, but it is just enough to help balance the heavy themes, and lighten the tone when it is required.