The Two Popes (4 stars)

The Two Popes

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are on awards-worthy form in this charming biographical drama

The Vatican has always held a fascination for filmmakers, whether it's due to the ancient rituals or absolute power, or the fact that the Pope serves until his death. All of this comes into play in Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles' buoyant new Netflix movie The Two Popes, adapted by Anthony McCarten from his own 2017 play The Pope.

McCarten is something of a biographical specialist – his subjects include Winston Churchill (Darkest Hour), Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything) and Freddie Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody). Here, he zooms in on a moment in time, when Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013, becoming the first leader of the Catholic Church to do so in 600 years.

McCarten's script – and Meirelles' charming direction – never lets the story feel overly sombre. Rather, this is a lightweight tale of two of the most powerful men in the world, as the ultra-conservative German pontiff (played here by Anthony Hopkins) spends time with the man who will become his successor, the Argentinean-born Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), the future Pope Francis.

Meirelles, who has rather lost his way since the one-two punch of City of God and The Constant Gardener, delights in these papal head-to-heads, as two very different men find common ground, often in the simplest pleasures in life (whether it be watching football together, or sharing a pizza from a stall outside the Vatican – and, no, they don't collect it themselves).

In the backdrop, the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals are raging, but the film is more about the difficulties of being human and assuming the role of envoy to God. Couple this with the fact that both Hopkins and Pryce are on awards-worthy form, and The Two Popes is a film to relish.

Selected release from Fri 29 Nov. Available on Netflix from Fri 20 Dec.

The Two Popes

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • UK / Italy / Argentina / USA
  • 2h 5min
  • Directed by: Fernando Meirelles
  • Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujín
  • UK release: 20 December 2019

Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) hangs out with the man who will become his successor, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce). Set against the backdrop of the church’s sex abuse scandals, the story is more about the difficulty of being Pope. A buoyant film with Hopkins and Pryce on award-worthy form.