Intelligent, powerful and often witty, THE TWO POPES is an acting powerhouse and a history lesson in one.
Anthony Hopkins (Magic) was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Pope Benedict, a staunch pontiff adhering to every church edict, no matter how dated.
Jonathan Pryce was Oscar nominated in the same category for his portrayal of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. He's Benedict's opposite, offended by the church's showy demonstrations of vast wealth in the face of widespread poverty among Catholic acolytes. Ready to leave the church and feeling that he can't go on in the light of current church policies and complete lack of action during the unending child molestation scandal, he writes a letter to Benedict asking to retire.
When the letter goes unanswered, he buys a ticket to Rome to tell Benedict in person. At the same moment, Benedict reaches out to him to come see him. It's the first of many serendipitous moments between these two men that form a fascinating interpersonal drama.
Writer Anthony McCarten (The History of Everything, Bohemian Rhapsody) structures a near perfect screenplay.
I wont spoil the experience by sharing too much. If you are a church person, you probably already know much of the topline story, but it's the quiet moments that are the most telling as the relationship between these two men with very different views develops.
We could all learn watching the way the two learn from each other through a sharing of ideas and listening to one another, sometimes contentiously, but then with respect.
Hopkins has the showier role as the very grumpy, solitary Benedict. He's superb and matched step for step by Pryce, who has the more likable character to portray.
McCarten elevates wordplay and opinions into action scenes, just as he did in the excellent WInston Churchill film "Darkest Hour".
A transition of power has never seemed so drastic and shocking, yet Hopkins and Price manage to convey an intelligent civility that seems extinct in today's politics.
The piano scene in Benedict's quarters is excellent. Pryce's silent reactions are worth a page of dialogue.
The sets, including a near identical Sistine Chapel, were constructed in Rome. Netflix's $40 million budget was well spent and is very evident on screen.
Beautifully shot and well told, THE TWO POPES is carried by two acting masters that lift it to an enjoyable, fascinating A.