The Two Popes Review: Starring Two Masters at the Height of Their Game

The Two Popes
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in ‘The Two Popes’ (Photo by Peter Mountain / Netflix)

Inspired by a true story, The Two Popes is a solid character-driven drama powered by two outstanding performances. Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star in Academy Award-nominated director Fernando Meirelles’ (City of God) engrossing drama that shines a spotlight on a pivotal moment in the Catholic Church’s history.

Following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, a vote by the Cardinals determined Pope John Paul II’s friend, German Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (Hopkins), would be his successor. Argentinian Cardinal Bergoglio (Pryce) also received support from some of his fellow Cardinals who, like Bergoglio, were interested in a more progressive leadership for the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger was, justifiably, known as a conservative traditionalist who would continue in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger and Bergoglio’s views on how to lead the Church could not have been more antithetical.

Less than a decade later, Pope Benedict XVI’s reign was beset by scandal. At the same time, Cardinal Bergoglio had become so dissatisfied with the lack of forward-thinking by the Catholic Church’s leadership that he was determined to retire from his position as a Cardinal. Although they respected each other, these two powerful men were not friends. Yet it was to Cardinal Bergoglio that Pope Benedict turned while making the nearly unheard of decision to resign.

For the most part, the film’s a two-hander interrupted occasionally to explore Bergoglio’s rise in the Church via flashbacks. And in fact The Two Popes is at its best when the focus is on Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce quietly chatting about everything from pizza to The Beatles to politics within the Catholic Church. Hopkins and Pryce are terrific in dialogue-heavy scenes in which the characters are obviously taking each other’s measure.

Hopkin’s Pope Benedict XVI is a thoughtful man who has the air of being unapproachable while Pryce’s Cardinal Bergoglio feels more at ease walking amongst the people or having a beer while watching soccer at a pub. Anthony McCarten’s (Darkest Hour) script provides plenty of opportunities to highlight their conflicting styles and philosophies, and the two critically acclaimed actors nimbly handle the script’s heavy subject matter.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content and some disturbing violent images

Running Time: 125 minutes

Release Date: Nov 27, 2019 limited theatrical, streaming on Dec 20, 2019

Studio: Netflix