What’s common between the Pope and the Queen? Both are hugely titular roles, meant to provide guiding lights to their followers and people at all times, but more so when seismic events threaten to swallow peace and humanity all at once. Both seem, even at their best in these times, to be anachronistic shadows of their powerfully halcyon looming presences of the past. But there’s something even more crumbling that connects them at all times. They can be devastatingly lonely roles to be in.
In The Two Popes, director Fernando Meirelles and writer Anthony McCarten (basing the screenplay off his book The Pope) explore this desolation that’s even more ironical because in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) practically smooth-sermons his way into being elected Pope Benedict XVI. He wants the role. He wants to be the Pope. And he gets what he wants. Second in with the votes, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) is off-beat and wears his relationship with God on his sleeve and cements his love for his parish in Argentina in his heart, on the street with them, as if preaching a road show. And the exalted status is far, far, from his mind. Prior to the vote, the two Cardinals meet in the washroom and if Ratzinger frowns upon and ignores Bergoglio a little later, it’s pop group ABBA who’s to blame.
Fast forward to seven years later, and the Holy See is embroiled in the Vatican papers scandal while Bergoglio has other things on his mind: resigning as cardinal and being amongst his people. Simultaneously, the Pope wants to meet him and it is about this extended tête-à-tête that the movie ruminates on with warmth, understated drama, humor, and balanced empathy. The Two Popes scores beautifully as the two spar theologically, philosophically, their divergent outlooks their foil, the Church their fencing ground. Director Meirelles doesn’t want you to know the Bible or God to get his movie. He’s more interested in the human foibles that stalk and haunt even the world’s most powerful men and women. As the movie unspools into Bergoglio’s past (a terrific Juan Minujín playing the younger Cardinal), it also casts its shadows on the Pope’s choices. And makes you realize how impossible a task it is to fit into the mould of a leader that a huge world population looks up to. And how difficult it can be to be flexible and dynamic while squirming to fit into that mould.
The lusciously designed The Two Popes elevates the dialogue volleys into fine art with its terrific writing and top performances. As the dogmatic Pope who’s now struggling with the truth and his and the Church’s future, Anthony Hopkins turns in a beautiful act, hunched over, steely gazed, and always mindful of his power. His delivery rolls around the tip of bluntness, and with enormous finesse—something that only he can do. Jonathan Pryce made me think of what Stan Laurel might have done in his older age with serious roles. His is such an understanding, lovely performance with just the right dash of humor and impish sparkle, he touches you deeply.
Even as the movie draws its engaging drama and thrum from its leads’ point-of-view clashes, it also delights in drawing out the subtle overlaps. If the Pope wears a fitness watch that reminds him to keep moving, it’s only to abide by the 10,000-steps rule. But when Bergoglio wears it, you know that that reminder is to tell him that his task is to keep moving ahead in his journey that’s of change, not compromise. And finally, it’s the good deeds that may define the strength of halo behind people, and in that sense they’re the points that count in the race to the pedestal. But it is the mistakes that we make that ultimately tie us all together as we look to a bigger and higher power for redemption. A metaphorical confessional just may be the binder we need to be more accepting of each other. That and a very good pizza.Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
The Two Popes is streaming on Netflix and is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years).
The Two Popes
Director Fernando Meirelles Time 2h 5min
Writer Anthony McCarten
Stars Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujín
Genres Comedy, Drama