Papal double act a triumph on screen

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes

There are many reasons to see The Two Popes – elegant writing, credible performances and striking cinematography among them. Source: ACOFB.

British screenwriter Anthony McCarten has done his research on Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, drawing on many of their statements as well as using his imagination to create conversations between them.

Anthony Hopkins makes a credible Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce a vigorous Francis. The film has a fine Brazilian director, Fernando Meirelles, whose films include City of God, The Constant Gardener, Blindness – and the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

The film’s stylish photography takes us to a number of Vatican settings, including the Sistine Chapel, the papal apartments, St Peter’s Basilica and the Piazza. We are drawn into the 2005 conclave, see the cardinals staying at Domus Santa Marthae and visit Castel Gandolfo.

The film also brings Francis’ native Buenos Aires alive – first of all in outdoors ministry of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, then black and white flashbacks to his younger years.

There are also some surprises with the musical score, not just the expected serious and religious themes, some classical music, but a number of more contemporary songs, creating atmosphere.

Some of the issues include the stances of each men concerning belief and doctrine, the traditional teachings of the Church and contemporary moral issues. Part of the drama is that they do not see eye to eye on some of these issues, and the associated difficulties of combining authority and tradition with pastoral demands.

The Two Popes features quite a deal of "God-language", discussions about faith and prayer between two clearly devout men. The film features a confession sequence, Benedict to Francis, which takes the film beyond ordinary dialogue.

The portrait of Francis is extensive but by contrast, there is no visual exploration of Benedict’s life.

Involved Catholics, with faith and loyalty, will find this two-hour immersion into the life of the church of great interest, of encouragement. For nominal Catholics, the film offers an occasion, even an invitation, to re-assessment. It will be the same for lapsed Catholics.

For ecumenical and interfaith audiences, the drama is both attractive and thought-provoking. And for non-religious audiences, they will appreciate good drama, good writing and performances, character studies – and an opportunity to give further thought to the credibility, life and mission of the Catholic Church.

Reviewed by Fr Peter Malone MSC, ACOFB

The Two Popes: Starring Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujin. Directed by Fernando Meirelles. 125 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and violence).

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