Thoughts on Netflix’s “The Two Popes”

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

by Kevin Joshua Cosme

Into the Areopagus

If you’ve ever watched HBO’s Game of Thrones, you’ve probably wondered how the show managed to cast Pope Francis as the High Sparrow.

Ok, not the pope himself but a guy who looks a lot like him. Since his character came out in season 5 of GOT, people have been saying how uncannily Jonathan Pryce resembles our reigning pontiff.

Not only that, Pryce’s character also reminds one of Pope Francis, at least by way of austerity in dress and the spiritual headship of multitudes (but minus the violent religious fanaticism). It made him the butt of jokes and the perfect choice to play said pope in a future project.

MEME TEMPLATE | Jonathan Pryce who plays the High Sparrow (right) in GOT bears a striking resemblance to Pope Francis (left). It was only a matter of time.

Four years and many memes later, wishful thinking turned to reality when “The Two Popes” started streaming on Netflix in late 2019. I had gotten around to watching it only recently and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised and in some parts even moved.

What It’s About

If we liken the plot to a burger, the buns at each end are the conclaves that elect Pope Benedict XVI and his successor Pope Francis. The juicy, meaty bit is everything that happens in between. Much of it consists of fictional dialogue, but it is gripping, expertly written and skillfully acted. Jonathan Pryce does not disappoint as the future Pope Francis, while Anthony Hopkins, as usual, shows his acting chops as Benedict XVI.

MASTERS AT THEIR CRAFT | Anthony Hopkins (left) adds his own flair to his portrayal of the real-life Benedict XVI (right). (Photo from E! Online)

The film’s Benedict tries to make Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio reconsider his resignation as archbishop of Buenos Aires, but sparks fly as their polarized ideas on theology and Church management collide. Later on, the tables are turned as Benedict confides in Bergoglio his own desire to step down from the papacy, as well as his eventual approval of the Argentinian cardinal’s suitability to succeed him.

While the movie is based on actual events and people, much of it, including Benedict’s and Bergoglio’s conversations, is imagined. Since neither we nor the screenwriters were actually privy to the events that inspired the movie, fiction is brought in to fill the gap. Consequently, I would caution against rashly drawing c