Buddy Popes: True or Fantasy?
When two stellar actors are cast in a movie together, it is a time to rejoice. That’s how I feel about director Fernando Meirelles casting Oscar® winner Anthony Hopkins and Britain’s Jonathan Pryce as Benedict XVI and Francis in The Two Popes.
This movie is written by novelist, screenwriter and playwright Anthony McCarten and based on his play, “The Pope,” and his book of the same title. The New Zealander’s play opened in Northampton, England in June 2019. McCarten has the distinction of having written three Best Actor Oscar®-winning films for men playing historical figures. They are Gary Oldman as British statesman Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour (2017), ginger-haired Eddie Redmayne as scientist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (2014), and young Rami Malek as rock star Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). The writer once said he got the idea for the “The Pope” book and play when he was visiting the Vatican and heard Pope Benedict was holed up in a secret convent. Whether that was true or not is open to interpretation, but McCarten did, indeed, write a story.
However, the film is not supposed to be an accurate account of what the Popes may have said or if they had any sort of close relationship. McCarten seems to have made it up out of whole cloth to amuse us and to give us an idea of what may have happened between the two opposing men. McCarten was quoted in the playbill as having said, “I wondered how many years since we’ve had two popes coexist and when we saw it was over 700 years, the idea for the play was born.”
The film, apparently, is based more on the book’s interpretation than on the play. Some experts have disagreed with McCarten’s suggestion that the two popes were practically bosom buddies. In an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter,” Vatican expert George Weigel said that they had nothing remotely resembling the relationship suggested by the film.
So, we suggest the audience take it all with a grain of salt and look at the film as pure entertainment and not as an accurate biography of anybody.
Hopkins and Pryce enjoy having their moments of extreme closeups in the film to spout their various views of the Catholic Church. Hopkins’ Benedict is a strict follower of the ancient church. The forward-thinking Francis has more liberal views. Both use their various charms and persuasive powers to hammer out their unwavering dogma. It is both entertaining and informative with a great deal of humor and much laughter to make the film more palatable.
The two veteran actors get their big scenes on screen, each being a superb interpreter of the written word. Both are marvelous, with Hopkins having the more stern and unmovable views of the church and Pryce being more impish, and relatively modern thinking. Being from Argentina, Pope Francis (Pryce) was the priest of the slums and knew poor and ordinary people intimately.
With the facts relatively skewered, McCarten has written what could have happened between the two men. And why not? It’s entertaining, interesting, and gives us an inside view of how the Vatican may actually function and how the Popes live their lives. You don’t have to be a Catholic to enjoy watching these two marvelous actors pretend to be Popes who are buddies. Fantasy? Perhaps.
(Released by Netflix and rated “PG-13” for thematic content, and some disturbing violent images.)