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The Two Popes: This Christmas Dance With The Pope



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.

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