For billions of people around the world, faith is a central part of their daily lives, and it’s no different for more than half of the Christian faith, the Catholic Church. The Church has been plagued by scandal and cover-up over the two thousand years of its existence, lately regarding sexual abuse by clergy and the Church’s stance on issues such as homosexuality and the marrying of priests. That is where The Two Popes comes in, focusing on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis, marking a shift from conservative leadership to reformation.
The Two Popes is primarily from the perspective of Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) before he was Pope Francis. In the film, Bergoglio is having a personal crisis questioning his place in the church and his role, especially under the current Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins). As a less conservative member of the church leadership, he found himself disagreeing with Benedict on many issues. Eventually, the two meet in Italy and engage in spirited discourse and debate over a few days.
Interspersed are flashbacks on Bergoglio’s life as a younger man (Juan Minujín) in Argentina. These scenes are about his upbringing and his navigation of the tense and dangerous politics of the country during the 1970s. These events and the decisions Bergoglio made have dogged him his entire life.
The Two Popes diligently balances the sensitivities of faith with humor and moments of levity. Pryce and Hopkins play off of each other with ease, creating a breeze of a watch that has you wanting more. The story itself, while rooted in recent history and actual figures, does take great liberty and is a fictionalized account of the two men. A grain of salt is necessary here, but that shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying the movie.
What is especially amazing is the art and set design throughout the film. Because filming couldn’t actually take place at the Vatican, designers recreated whole rooms and artworks to give as real a setting as possible. This was no small feat, and it speaks to the hard work and dedication of those working behind the camera.
Now playing on Netflix, The Two Popes has received several nominations as the award season starts up. For anybody, Catholic or otherwise, this film is a quiet and introspective presentation that deserves to be appreciated.
This review originally appeared on Salt Lake Film Review