The Two Popes

The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles, 2019) wr. Anthony McCarten; Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins ; release 27 November, streaming 20 December

The relationship and opposing visions between Argentinian Pope Francis and German Pope Benedict, each of whom must address their own pasts and the demands of the modern world in order to move the Catholic Church forward.

This is very good because Hopkins is, as always, very good. Pryce manages. There is almost no-one else in it, tho the production design and other technical stuff is excellent. I must find out how they did the Sistine Chapel ... tho perhaps it's better if I just believe they rented it for the day. A feature for me is the spoken language. Both popes have to speak Italian and Latin, plus Spanish for Francis, and token bits of German for Benedict, tho most of the dialogue is in English. Neither actor put much work into his accent in English, tho the other languages were either spoken or faked well enough. Hopkins really does play the piano ... well enough.

I didn't think the script was tight enough. Trivial examples. There's a bridging scene with (new) Pope Francis and a Swiss guard. He's trying to use his phone to get a flight to Lampedusa (so that the following sequence can show him travelling there and to other cities). He asks the Swiss guarding his room for help, saying he wants to make a booking. He doesn't say 'air' or even 'travel' or give any other information. Where to, asks the guard, whipping out his phone. Lampedusa, says Francis. The guard just makes the booking. Um ... doesn't he need a few more details, like 'when', for example? Another example, in a scene meant to establish Francis's 'common touch': he asks the Swiss guard a number of questions about his uniform - isn't it hot, and so on. The script does not give the guard time to answer. ... The writer should have got someone reliable to read the script - to see that each scene has not also plausibility but also a point.

All of which makes me wonder about the historical accuracy of the various stories. I don't know anything about these guys, and watch a film like this as if it's a documentary. And maybe I'm being misled.

By the way, I actually laughed out loud, and heartily, when the German Pope makes a joke. The Argentinian doesn't laugh. Hopkins' character tells him that it's a German joke so it doesn't have to be funny. Quite inappropriate and unbelievable, but funny in context. It's not the only joke. And far from the only line written for the audience, as opposed to being likely to have been actually spoken.

Anonymous director and Academy voter, quoted by IndieWire: [re Best Supporting Actor] "Anthony Hopkins. I wasn’t expecting to be so taken with it, just at first glance. Then I saw it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. It’s a lot spikier and sharper and funnier and dramatic than I was expecting. The title alone, it was at the bottom of the screening pile. But Hopkins is really great in it, as magnetic as Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. It feels like a chamber piece or a play, but there’s no denying that for a talky movie it’s riveting. A  lot of that is Hopkins. It’s Hopkins’ best performance in a decade, he’s obviously a master. It’s between Hopkins and Pitt for me."

References and Links

Peter Debruge's review in Variety is worth reading. I read it twice.

IMDb page.

Wikipedia page.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 25 December, 2019 | Now: 31 January, 2020