The Two Popes(Netflix)
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Rating; *** ½ (three and a half stars)
Early on in this beautifully idealized and tenderly executed take on Catholic camaraderie, one prospective Pope asks the other at the loo what the other is humming. The humming pope says it is ‘Dancing Queen’. The other one brightens up and recognizes it as an ABBA tune.
Two prospective popes peeing and discussing Abba’ song together…. Can it get any more irreverent than this? Netflix’s much-expected Christmas release is a gentle whiplash of a splash probing with warm and humour the supremacy of the papacy without getting cheeky or intrusive.
It’s a fine film, elevated to something special by the two principal performers. The redoubtable Anthony Hopkins travels a long way from his evil Hector Hannibal days of The Silence Of The Lambs, to play the conservative rule-fixated Pope Bendict XX1 , Johathan Pryce is priceless as Jorge Bergoglio , the Pope’s Argentinian critic and friend who thinks it’s the Pope’s duty to address taboo issues and to help society break free of the shackles, that ironically, religion often imposes .
It’s a terrific setting for a dialogue on theology and practicality, well-modulated in its journey from the stage to screen with none of the original’s vitality and warmth lost in transition.The wordy narrative owes it allegiance to a celebrated stage play The Pope by Anthony McCarten. The movie version abandons none of the original’s wordy duel.
As Hopkins and Pryce sink their teeth into their respective characters, what emerges a vivid though austerely conceived and executed portrait of two religious heads agreeing to disagree on religious matters.There are scenes of distinguished clarity and eloquence in the narrative .At the same time the film’s breezy direction also accommodates a great deal of theological debate that never gets wearying.
“You seem to be very popular,” Hopkins’ Pope tells Pryce’s Cardinal grudgingly. To this the Cardinal replies that he was only tying to be himself.
“Whenever I try to be myself people don’t like it,” the Pope laments.
The opposition between “being oneself” and doing what is expected , runs through the film, providing arresting bouts of brotherhood between the two veteran actors playing entirely different religious figures.Who will not smile when the freespirited Cardinal teaches the fettered Pope how to tango in full public view?
Where the film flounders is the flashbacks of the Cardinal’s early years as a potential priest caught between the Church and his girlfriend. His political leanings towards the monarchy invade the Cardinal’s personality and violate his nobility of interest. Here in the selfconsciously done up black-and-white past-recall , Pryce is played ny a younger actor(Juan Minujin) who is really no patch.
Also, at times the two veteran actors are given way too much resources to process the differences of opinion between the two priests. The point about their polarity is well established early on and there was no need to build on it so incessantly.Nonetheless , by the time the Pope Benedict (now retired) and Cardinal Bergoglio(the new Pope) sit down to watch the 2014 World Cup together we are so taken up with their friendship that we can’t but smile at the two old men behaving like any World Cup enthusiasts .
This is what The Two Popes tries to do. It humanizes the Church, de-mythologizes the Vatican and makes the papacy seem real and fancy-free without an iota of cynicism or irreverence.