“The Two Popes” (M) ****
ANTHONY McCarten has written a convincing but largely fictional screenplay for Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles’s film about conversations that might have taken place between the German pope Benedict XVI and the Argentinean cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio who, after Benedict retired, succeeded him as Pope Francis.
Benedict is the first pope to have retired since the 15th century. In papal history, Francis represents a choice collection of “firsts” – Jesuit pope, from the Americas, from the southern hemisphere, from outside Europe since the 8th century (the Syrian Gregory III).
Whatever religion we profess (or not), the Pope is an important figure. If nothing else, he heads a tiny state that’s the world’s largest and probably wealthiest corporation. But more than that, that state exercises moral guidance over more than 1.28 billion people (that’s a 2018 figure – latest trends say the number is falling, but that’s not the subject of the film, which tells about events in 2012-13).
A film about two old bachelors mulling over each other’s moral attitudes may not sound like much fun and jollity. But in the hands of Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Bergoglio, who became Francis, they come across pretty convincingly.
They form what on screen looks like a quite genuine friendship. They debate the moral issues confronting the faithful, which is not surprising. What is surprising is how entertainingly the film delivers their debates and private conversations (fictitious though they may be). And it leaves it to filmgoers to form their own opinions about Vatican panoply in a world where poverty is rampant.