COMIC DRAMA; 2hr 5min
STARRING: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce
Play mystic for me: Pryce (left) and Hopkins
In 2005, after Pope John Paul II has, in catchy Catholic-speak, “returned to the Lord’s House,” 115 cardinals gather at the Vatican to elect his successor. Among them are German conservative Joseph Ratzinger (Hopkins), who thinks life was much simpler when everyone spoke in Latin, and Argentinean pizza- and football-loving Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce), who jauntily whistles Abba’s “Dancing Queen”.
Seven years later, a disenchanted Bergoglio is back in Rome to tender his resignation to the former cardinal Ratzinger, who as Pope Benedict XVI stubbornly refuses to accept it. “It seems to me,” the progressive Bergoglio argues as the two men wander through the heavenly gardens of the pontiff’s awesome country pile, “that … our Church is moving in directions I can no longer condone.” (He’s referring in part to clerical sexual abuse, although in classic art-life style, that particular smoking gun is politely downplayed.) It’s par for the course that an aggressive/defensive Benedict disagrees completely with this condemning sentiment. The squabbling clerics might both be men of God, but their MO is diametrically different.
The snazzy red shoes of the serving Pope and those of the man who will, against all initial appearances, go on to succeed him in 2013 as Pope Francis, are major footwear to fill, but Hopkins and Pryce, no lightweights themselves, slip them on with disarming sympathy and humour. Adapted by Anthony McCarten from his 2017 stage play and directed with a penchant for over-easy by City of God’s Fernando Meirelles, the verbal sparring is sharp, fast, unguarded and downright playful at times as two polar opposites edge into an enduring friendship. Their camaraderie is an unexpected treat. But the real beauty of McCarten’s humanising back-room take on papal pomp and circumstance is the grounding of his narrative in a reality vastly removed from the everyday yet paradoxically recognisable. Who hasn’t bemoaned the burden of responsibility, even without 1.2 billion followers eyeballing their every move?