Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are a joy as the retiring Benedict XVI and his successor, Pope Francis
The essence of the mismatched buddy movie genre is a clash of personalities and ideologies. A mutual antipathy gives way to grudging respect, eventually warming into friendship. And for all its pomp and grandiosity, despite some fumbled fancy footwork in the timeline, this factually based drama about the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and his successor, Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce), ticks off the genre conventions pretty neatly.
Given how much of the film is taken up by two elderly men politely wrestling with theology, it’s unexpectedly entertaining stuff. Much of the credit must go to the sparky screenplay by Anthony McCarten, who, after The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody, has rather cornered the market in glossy biographical dramas. And director Fernando Meirelles injects bursts of dynamism and energy wherever possible – the editing takes its cue from the “slow, slow, quick, quick, slow” of Pope Francis’s beloved tango. Most essential, however, are the contributions of Hopkins, who has mastered a mirthless Germanic laugh, and Pryce, who is as good as I have ever seen him. Some performances, even strong ones, exist in a vacuum. Pryce’s doesn’t; it engages and embraces everything and everyone else on screen.
It doesn’t all work; the flashbacks are unwieldy and the pacing falters in the second half. It’s also rather coy in addressing some of the more damning elements in recent Catholic history. But there’s something disarming about a scene of papal bonding over beer and footy.