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The Screen Scene: The Two Popes

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

In 2005, Pope John Paul II died. A papal conclave elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany to become the new leader of the Catholic Church. Ratzinger served the Church under the name of Pope Benedict XVI. A cardinal from Argentina named Jorge Mario Bengoglio finished second in the voting.

Popes are expected to serve lifetime appointments. A new pope is not usually named until the previous pope dies in office. In 2013, Pope Benedict shocked Catholics around the world when he became the first pope in hundreds of years to retire from the position, requiring the Catholic Church to elect his successor.

This eight-year segment of world history serves as the basis for the new Netflix Original film, The Two Popes. The film takes some liberties with history and wonders what it would be like if the outgoing Pope Benedict were to meet with Cardinal Bengoglio whom he defeated in the 2005 papal election?

Pope Benedict was an old school conservative, a hardline believer in traditional Catholic doctrine. Cardinal Bengoglio was a more liberal member of the clergy, a man of the people who lived a meager life dedicated to charity and serving the poor.

In The Two Popes, Anthony Hopkins plays Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce plays Cardinal Bengoglio. We meet the two men when they are adversaries in 2005 and then see them reunited in 2013 when Pope Benedict is making his plans to renounce the papacy.

Benedict has gone from a man of certainty and conviction to a leader filled with doubt. The sexual abuse scandal has broken in the news, and Benedict finds himself wondering if the Church would have been better off if Bengoglio had been elected in 2005.

Hopkins and Pryce give Oscar-caliber performances, and the stellar screenplay by Anthony McCarten gives the veteran actors a pair of well-rounded characters to play.

McCarten has built a career on writing films about real people from The Theory of Everything about the life of Stephen Hawking to Bohemian Rhapsody about the career of Freddie Mercury.

Your enjoyment of The Two Popes may depend on your need for historical accuracy. Did these two men know one another? Certainly. Their friendship is documented in a series of photographs that we see during the ending credits to the film.

Did they spend a weekend baring their hearts and their souls to one another? Discussing their dreams and their fears? Probably not. But, does it really matter? Not to me.

The Two Popes is a fascinating exercise in “what if” history. The audience is allowed inside the confines of Vatican City to be flies on the wall as two men discuss the future of a church with a worldwide congregation in the millions. I found it

To be a powerful film with a lot to say about the burdens of leadership and the relevance of religious faith in these modern times. I give The Two Popes 4 out of 5 popcorn buckets. The film begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, December 20th.

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