Granger on Film: ‘The Two Popes’ is intriguing, entertaining
After opening in limited release, this papal buddy dramedy “inspired by true events” is now streaming on Netflix.
Written by Anthony McCarten (“The Theory of Everything”) and directed by Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”), it’s a fictionalized glimpse of the friendship between the most recent leaders of the Catholic Church.
The subtle spectacle ignites when genial, liberal-leaning Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Oscar-nominated Jonathan Pryce) is summoned to the Vatican by conservative, German-born Pope Benedict XVI (Oscar-nominated Anthony Hopkins), who is besieged by criticism of his handling of the Church’s sexual abuse scandal.
The two clerics hold very different views about Catholic doctrine and the role of the church in our changing world, which is why solitary Benedict wants popular Bergoglio to succeed him in 2013 when he submits his surprise resignation, citing his “lack of strength of mind and body.”
It’s wonderful to see the two of them discussing sin and guilt in Castel Gandolfo’s gardens, watching soccer after dinner, communing in the Sistine Chapel and enjoying pizza and Fanta in its sacristy.
“Whenever I try to be myself, people don’t like me very much,” Benedict sadly concludes.
Jonathan Pryce embodies Bergoglio, the tango-loving reformer who gives Communion to the divorced and speaks out in favor of refugees and against climate change, while as traditionalist Benedict — a.k.a. Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) — shows unmistakable glee, speaking in Latin when he delivers difficult news because so few of the Cardinals understand it.
How much is fact and how much is fiction? According to George Weigel, author of “Witness to Hope,” a biography of Pope John Paul II, “They had nothing remotely resembling the relationship suggested by the film. ... It’s inconceivable and totally false.”
On the other hand, in his book “Wounded Shepherd,” Francis Austen Ivereigh maintains, “The 266th successor of Saint Peter enjoys a close relationship with the 265th, one that long predates his election.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Two Popes” is an intriguing, entertaining 8, a holy alliance.
Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.