The Two Popes
The Two Popes is a 2019 biographical drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles and written by Anthony McCarten adapted from McCarten's play The Pope which premiered at Royal & Derngate Theatre in 2019. Predominantly set in the Vatican City in the aftermath of the Vatican leaks scandal, the film follows Pope Benedict XVI, played by Anthony Hopkins, as he attempts to convince Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, played by Jonathan Pryce, to reconsider his decision to resign as an archbishop as he confides his own intentions to abdicate the papacy.
|The Two Popes|
Official promotional poster
|Directed by||Fernando Meirelles|
|Screenplay by||Anthony McCarten and Frank Cotrrell-Boyce|
|Based on||The Pope|
by Anthony McCarten
|Music by||Bryce Dessner|
|Edited by||Fernando Stutz|
The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2019. It began a limited theatrical release in the United States on November 27, 2019 and in the United Kingdom on November 29, 2019, and started digital streaming on December 20, 2019, by Netflix. The performances of Pryce and Hopkins, as well as McCarten's screenplay, received high praise from critics, and all three men received respective nominations for their work at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA Film Awards.
In April 2005, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is called to Vatican City after the death of Pope John Paul II to elect a new pope. German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is elected Pope Benedict XVI; Bergoglio receives the second-highest vote count. Seven years later, the Catholic Church is embroiled in the Vatican leaks scandal, and Benedict's tenure has been tainted by public accusations regarding his role in the cover-up.
Bergoglio has submitted his resignation as Archbishop, but the Vatican has not responded. As he prepares to go to Rome and personally deliver his resignation letter to the Pope, he receives a request to come to Vatican City. Bergoglio and Pope Benedict meet at the Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer residence. The two debate the roles of God and the church. Benedict recounts what led him to the priesthood and talks about his interests. The two watch Benedict's favorite TV show, Kommissar Rex, which further delays their discussion about Bergoglio's resignation.
Bergoglio recounts his early life and path into the church. He ended his marital engagement and joined the Jesuits. He was met by Father Franz Jalics and Father Orlando Yorio, who become his spiritual friends. Benedict rejects Bergoglio's resignation, saying the world would perceive it as a vote of no confidence in his leadership and weaken the Catholic Church. Benedict and Bergoglio put aside their differences and chat informally, gradually warming to each other.
The next day, the two are helicoptered to the Vatican, during which Benedict again avoids discussing Bergoglio's resignation. Benedict meets with Bergoglio in the Room of Tears within the Sistine Chapel, where he confides his intention to resign the papacy. Shocked, Bergoglio objects and argues for church tradition and continuity. Benedict says his opinions regarding tradition are different now and believes change is essential. Benedict says Bergoglio could be his successor, but Bergoglio rejects the idea, citing the perception that he had collaborated with the Argentine military dictatorship and his failure to protect his friends and confront the junta may have damaged his reputation. Following the "Dirty War" Bergoglio was removed as head of the Argentinian Society of Jesus. The Order exiled him to serve as an ordinary parish priest to the poor, serving them for the next ten years.
Over time, Father Jalics reconciled with Bergoglio, but Bergoglio carries guilt over never reconciling with Father Yorio. Memories of his actions and inaction during the dictatorship continually haunt him. Benedict comforts Bergoglio, reminds him that being a survivor of a dictatorship himself, the freedom to choose to help is often stifled and gives Bergoglio absolution. Then, Benedict makes his own confessions: being aware of long-term sexual misconduct by a priest and his regret on staying silent, saying he no longer hears God's words and affirms his wishes to abdicate. Bergoglio ultimately comforts the Pope and offers him absolution as well. The two emerge from the room, surprising tourists. Benedict goes outside to greet the masses and take selfies with them. Bergoglio departs for Argentina.
One year later, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his resignation to the world. Cardinal Bergoglio is elected Benedict's successor in the 2013 papal conclave and becomes Pope Francis. The two popes watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina together.
- Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis
- Juan Minujín as Young Jorge Mario Bergoglio
- Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI
- Luis Gnecco as Cardinal Cláudio Hummes
- Sidney Cole as Cardinal Peter Turkson
- Lisandro Fiks as Father Franz Jalics
- Maria Ucedo as Esther Ballestrino
- Willie Jonah as Cardinal Arinze
- Thomas D. Williams as The American Journalist
- Achille Brugnini as Cardinal Martini
- Federico Torre as Protodeacon Estévez
- Germán de Silva as Father Yorio
- Josello Bella as Admiral Massera
On September 6, 2017, Netflix announced that they would produce the film, directed by Fernando Meirelles and written by Anthony McCarten. Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins would play Cardinal Bergoglio and Pope Benedict XVI, respectively. Filming was set to begin that November in Argentina. The film began production in Rome in April 2018.
Filming locations included a refugee camp in Rome, a full-size reproduction of the Sistine Chapel interior created at the Cinecittà studios in Rome, an area outside Castel Gandolfo (the popes' summer palace), various locations in Rome as stand-ins for scenes at the Vatican, and in poor areas of Buenos Aires. The St. Peter's Square plaza was recreated using computer-generated imagery. Some scenes were shot in Royal Palace of Caserta and in villa Farnese in Caprarola, near Rome. The poster image is the hunting lodge of villa Farnese.
Much of the coverage of the film in the news media has centered on the reconstructed Sistine Chapel, built in a studio during an eight-week period. In order to create a realistic look for the artworks, the producers hired a company that produced a "tattoo" of the walls and ceiling. "The ink from the tattoo is absorbed into the plaster so (...) we got all the texture and the vibrancy", said production designer Mark Tildesley. The interior set is actually an inch or two larger than the real Chapel interior in the Vatican.
The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2019. It also was screened at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on September 9. Netflix gave the film a theatrical limited release in the United States beginning November 27, 2019, and in the United Kingdom beginning November 29, 2019. It then started streaming it on its service on December 20, 2019.
Although Netflix does not publicly disclose the theatrical box office of its films, IndieWire estimated The Two Popes grossed around $32,000 from four theaters in its opening weekend (and a total $48,000 over its five-day Thanksgiving opening weekend). The site wrote that "the drama is starting more modestly than other recent Netflix titles. Attendance at the two high-end Landmark theaters in New York and Los Angeles has been modest. Neither small-scale auditorium sold out." The film then made an estimated $50,000 from 19 theaters in its second weekend, and $200,000 from 150 in its third. In its fourth week, upon being released digitally onto Netflix, the film made $90,000 from 44 theaters.
According to Variety, The Two Popes was "an unexpected hit" at its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, receiving praise for its humour and the two lead actors' performances. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89% based on 206 reviews, with an average of 7.35/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Led by outstanding performances from its well-matched leads, The Two Popes draws absorbing drama from a pivotal moment in modern organized religion." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
Although much of the content is based on historic events, including speeches and philosophical debates that were published, most other aspects were fictionalized: "What you always do is you speculate," McCarten said in an interview with TheWrap. "Hopefully that speculation is based in facts and the truth, and hopefully it’s inspired", he added.
In its coverage of the film, Time pointed out that the two popes' relationship has not been as smooth as in the fictionalized version. In April 2019, Pope Benedict released a 6,000 word letter blaming the clergy sex abuse scandal on factors including the "dangerously liberal theological ideas" within the Church. While the letter did not criticize Francis' papacy, its content was described by The New York Times as "the most significant undercutting yet of the authority of Pope Francis". The Guardian also discussed a letter that Benedict had written, complimentary of Cardinal Joachim Meisner who was an outspoken critic of Pope Francis and added that a 2020 book partly authored by Benedict "was intervening to halt Pope Francis relaxing celibacy rules".
There remains a scene in the film which has sparked some debate among Catholic publications which includes an imagined confession from Pope Benedict to Bergoglio (Francis), where he mentions Marcial Maciel before the audio fades out and we see but do not hear his confession. J. Peter Nixon, in the publication U.S. Catholic wrote, "the film’s implication that it was Benedict who allowed Father Marcial Maciel Degollado to remain leader of the Legionaries of Christ despite mounting evidence that he was a sexual predator. It was during the papacy of Pope John Paul II, however, that efforts to investigate Maciel were repeatedly frustrated. It was Benedict who ultimately removed him." However publications including National Catholic Reporter, and Slate Magazine have disagreed stating, "For years, Joseph Ratzinger also refused to act against Maciel. As the prefect responsible for enforcing church doctrine, he chose to handle the church’s sexual abuse through secrecy rather than transparency. For almost a quarter century, Ratzinger failed to push for the detachment of Marcial Maciel from the position of privilege he enjoyed for so long. He finally did so in 2006, when, as Pope, he found the courage to remove Maciel from the priesthood and send him to Mexico to supposedly focus on a “discreet life of penance and prayer.” If Maciel followed Benedict's spiritual marching orders, it certainly did not lead to atonement. He never admitted any wrongdoing, much less showed remorse. He died in 2008 without ever asking for forgiveness."
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Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes, which until now had been known simply as The Pope
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Benedict realized the fears of many church experts who have argued that having two pontiffs living at the same time was a recipe for pastoral, theological and political disaster and could lead to confusion among the faithful.
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Benedict and his inner circle are accused of intervening to halt Pope Francis relaxing celibacy rules as the battle between conservative and liberal factions takes a new twist
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