By David Southwell
The stunning decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign in 2013 led to the incredible situation, unseen for at least 700 years, of having two men who could compare notes on being the head of the Catholic church.
That’s what happens in this highly acclaimed Netflix movie, which gives us an imagined and often fairly fanciful continuing conversation between Benedict and his successor, Francis, from before and after the changeover.
Written by Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour, Bohemian Rhapsody) and directed Fernando Meirelles (City of God), the film is a tour de force of character acting by Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis.
The story proceeds largely from the point of view of Francis, otherwise known as Argentine Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who is shown to be modest, humane and having a common touch. As good as Pryce is, it is
Hopkins as the prickly but also avuncular, idiosyncratic and wry Benedict, AKA German theologian Cardinal Joeseph Ratzinger, who steals the show.
The film’s theological sympathy clearly lies with Francis, and he is given a backstory through flashbacks that portrays his spiritual evolution out of a surprisingly controversial past.
As long as it is enjoyed as an ecclesiastical odd-couple buddy movie, and more papal bull than holy writ on the transition of the throne of St Peter, this movie has almost an infallible charm.
The Two Popes is now streaming on Netflix.
Four doves out of five.