The Two Popes is available on Netflix now.
On the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, the Catholic Church found itself at crossroads, the need for modernisation clashing with the continued conservatism of John Paul’s legacy. Here, Fernando Meirelles’ beautiful adaptation of Anthony McCarten’s screenplay begins, taking us on a glorious, largely unknown journey into the relationship between the men who would vie to be John Paul’s successor. The Two Popes is, at its heart, a two-person stage play that shines in the hands of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, with both actors bringing their characters to life under a delicate and assured theatre-like direction.
As John Paul’s legacy as Pope haunts the search for his replacement, two men sit at the heart of the future direction of the Catholic Church, the staunchly conservative Joseph Ratzinger (Hopkins) and the more liberal Jorge Bergoglio (Pryce). However, despite a close-run contest, Ratzinger wins the assigned number of votes, a decision that Bergoglio struggles with, despite fearing the challenges he would face in modernising the Papal throne.
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With the church bouncing from one controversy to the next, Bergoglio writes to Pope Benedict XVI asking for permission to retire, only to be invited to the Papal home to discuss his views and opinions on the church’s future. Both men butt heads in a tangle of disagreement, religious discussion and social debate. However, as time passes, they find solace in the presence of each other, their disputes laced with a crisis of faith, need for change and reconciliation.
Anthony McCarten’s screenplay sings in the hands of Hopkins and Pryce, creating moments of pure beauty as both men find peace and serenity in the arms of each other. Here hope, fragility, and faith sit centre stage as disagreement becomes an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, Fernando Meirelles brings a documentary-like focus, allowing his actors to take control of the narrative while playing with sound, music, light, and humour to accentuate their differences and similarities.
Whether you are a firm believer, agnostic or atheist, The Two Popes speaks to a need to find solace and meaning in the arms of another. In a divided world where ideologies build walls rather than dismantle them, strong messages are at play in this delightfully calm human journey.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujín