“The Two Popes” blessed by great script and acting

The Two Popes (Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce) – In 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was selected to succeed John Paul II following the popular pontiff’s death. He was selected over Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio by the College of Cardinals.  The Netflix film, The Two Popes, begins when Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, summons Bergoglio to the Pope’s lavish summer home.

As depicted in the film, which is “inspired by actual events,” Pope Benedict dresses down the Argentinian as too liberal.  Yet these two philosophical opposites develop an unexpected chemistry.  As history will note, Benedict eventually retires/resigns after eight years as Pope. Bergoglio succeeds him as Pope Francis.

Writer Anthony McCarten, whose credits include outstanding screenplays for The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody, imagines this magical visit as a journey of personal connection rather than one of ecclesiastical reconciliation.  The script is clever and funny, not brooding or confrontational.

To make it work, Oscar-nominated Director Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener) gives his two veteran actors, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, plenty of space.  The chemistry is palpable.  We see flashbacks of Bergoglio as a young priest who was sometimes viewed as an appeaser to Argentine strongman Juan Peron.  He sees himself as a flawed man trying desperately to atone.  Meanwhile, Pope Benedict struggles with his own failure to confront sexual abuse by priests worldwide.

Hopkins and Price make the movie.  Expect Oscar consideration for both, for McCarten and perhaps for the film. Remember, of course, that the story is not history; it’s supposition and perhaps rationalization.

If this film were strictly playing in theaters, you may want to wait for it to get to video or streaming.  But since it is playing on Netflix, sit back and enjoy the interplay of Hopkins and Pryce.

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