Anthony McCarten has, in recent years, made his name as one of the premier screenwriters of mass appeal but mediocre historical films like Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody. His latest, The Two Popes, teams him with Fernando Meirelles, director of the all-time classic City of God. Yet, sadly, this still isn’t enough to elevate baggy, slow material that is so concerned with pleasing everybody that it fails to do much of interest.
The Two Popes’ main appeal is in seeing Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins go head to head as, respectively, Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, as they have a week of discussions about theology and the direction of the Catholic Church a year before Benedict’s shocking retirement from the papal seat. Pryce and Hopkins are brilliant casting, and they’re clearly having a lot of fun in the roles, but the material feels thin and handled with an overly soft touch – the most intense conversation is deliberately obscured by the soundtrack.
The popes speak mostly in aphorisms or theological jargon, which makes sense but is not hugely engaging, and the best sequence is when the pair let their guard down and just watch the TV together as two people. There’s also a major structural problem later in the film as the film takes an extended trip into Francis’ past in ‘70s Argentina, which arrives too late in the game to do much except disrupt the main story. The conclusions to each of these plot strands are rushed and frustratingly uninvolving as a result.
The Two Popes is handsomely shot, and the recreations of the Vatican are majestic, but this doesn’t stop it from being rather boring, and its joviality translates to too few funny jokes. Cosy, but middle of the road, it’d be more at home on ITV on a Sunday.
CAST: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins
DIRECTOR: Fernando Meirelles
WRITER: Anthony McCarten
SYNOPSIS: Behind Vatican walls, the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.