Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Sidney Cole
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Running Time: 125 mins
The Two Popes is an American film about the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis, as they attempt to find common ground in their ideologies with a view to paving a strong future for the Catholic Church.
You really wouldn’t expect it at first, but The Two Popes is a wonderfully surprise, telling a deeply, movingly intimate story that makes a relatable and almost universal tale out of the lives of two of the most powerful men in history, while also impressing with surprising humour and charisma, as well as two fantastic lead performances that hold your attention entirely throughout.
Now, for the most part, The Two Popes is a very quiet, slow and (at least on the face of things) unspectacular drama. Largely playing out as a series of conversations between Pope Benedict XVI as he invites then-Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) to discuss views on the standing of the Catholic Church in the modern day, paving the way for a deeper introspection into each of their lives.
So, while The Two Popes is an undeniably great film that’s absolutely worth your time, I will say this. If you don’t like slow, quiet and dialogue-heavy movies, this may be a bit much. And if you don’t like reading subtitles, then there’s a lot of work there too, because this film, while mostly in English, features significant dialogue in Spanish, Italian and even Latin throughout.
But neither of those points should be seen as negatives in what is a fantastic and powerfully intimate drama. The Two Popes is dialogue-heavy and slow, but that’s what allows it to open up so strikingly, giving you an unprecedented insight not only into the ways of life at the highest peak of the Catholic Church, but also a stunningly deep reflection on life, played out through the differing worldviews presented by the two men.
Unfolding initially as a polite but significant butting of heads between the conservative Benedict and the reformist Francis, The Two Popes features riveting and relevant historical discourse, and as far as telling an informative story about the church and the popes goes, this film does an incredible job. However, while that provides an engrossing introduction to the story in the first half, it’s when the two men begin to gel together, finding common ground not necessarily in their ideologies, but their experiences, developing their conversation into a deeply personal series of reflections and confessions on everything that has come before.
You’d think, though, that a film looking at the lives and emotions of the popes would be, while interesting, a little difficult to relate to. However, the one thing that’s really outstanding about The Two Popes is how it turns what could have been an emotionally inaccessible story into one with universal resonance, taking the focus off the two men’s religious and political characters, and simply portraying them as human beings.
That alone is an exceptional achievement of this film, and as their conversation deepens, you begin to understand and relate to their concerns more and more, only strengthening the story’s emotional resonance, and bringing it to a spectacular close by the end.
As a result, it’s that stunningly intimate brand of drama that really makes The Two Popes such a great watch. But on top of that, one of its most surprising aspects is just how funny and charismatic it is too.
Again, a slow, quiet drama about the Catholic Church doesn’t immediately scream laugh-a-minute comedy. And while this film of course isn’t quite that, its use of humour in the conversation between the two men is so significant. In part, it makes the film an easier, more enjoyable watch, but perhaps most importantly, it brings the two men down from the high, unreachable status of pontiff to a level where you can relate to them, and as much as the film hits home with its universal emotional resonance, its humour is vital in making that work at all in the first place.
Finally, a word on the two lead performances, which are absolutely fantastic. Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce’s legendary statuses are obvious, but films like this really show their incredible, variable talents. From adapting to speak a multitude of languages in an even bigger range of accents, to hammering home stunning emotional drama just from a look or twitch of the eye, Hopkins and Pryce’s understated yet entirely magnetic performances are the cherry on top of the cake for The Two Popes.
Overall, I loved The Two Popes. A riveting, enjoyable and deeply powerful film that thrills with stunning intimacy, great humour and two fantastic lead performances, it’s a wonderful surprise, somehow making a relatable tale out of the lives of two of the most powerful men in the world, which is why I’m giving it a 7.8.