By Nick Maylor
Netflix has been flexing its muscle here at TIFF with several films and they deliver a satisfying comedic drama here that features large backdrops and themes, but is mainly anchored by its two lead actors who share a remarkable chemistry that is endlessly watchable
The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.
The film portrays the events of the 2005 and 2013 Papal Conclaves where both men were respectively elected to the papacy.
It also shows much of Jorge Bergoglio’s backstory from the rejected proposal that led him to choose the priesthood, his life as a Jesuit priest and complicated relationships with the Argentine government.
Cardinal Bergoglio is shown as having support during the 2005 conclave that would ultimately elect Ratzinger and his popularity as a humble man of the people keeps him well known amongst the highest levels of the Vatican. Intending to retire from active duties as a Cardinal, Bergoglio journeys to Rome at the coincidental beckoning of Pope Benedict. Bergoglio has come to formally request permission for his retirement from the high pontiff while Benedict has other, more drastic ideas he wishes to discuss.
Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are quite brilliantly cast in their respective roles and while they both deliver, Pryce stands out with a more substantial role and a simply remarkable performance. Pryce speaks several languages confidently and affects an appropriate accent for the South American Cardinal. Both Pryce and Hopkins speak Latin in several scenes. Contrasting Pryce’s portrayal, Hopkins does not adapt any noticeable German dialect for his role as Ratzinger. Not that he really needs to. He is still wonderfully charming as the aging and conflicted pontiff and Hopkins readily displays his prowess on the piano during a scene where the two priests spend an evening in each other’s company.
The contrasting styles and sociopolitical ideas of the two men are the main focus during the lengthy conversations they share. Pope Benedict flatly states more than once that he disagrees with everything Bergoglio says and believes. Bergoglio is seen as modest and progressive whereas Benedict was always known as a staunch conservative in his ideology.
Benedict clothes himself in the finest fabrics and priceless jewelry, something that has been done by Popes for centuries whereas Bergoglio is a man of simple tastes and simple garb. Benedict prefers to eat meals in solitude. Bergoglio would be right at home in a pub watching a soccer game.
Despite the striking differences between them, the men do develop a friendship and find common ground. They may argue over scripture, but they sometimes will find themselves agreeing about small, even trivial things.
Hopkins and Pryce share a palpable chemistry that instantly infectious and you just want to watch them talk about the weather.
The film also features some stunning backdrops as we see the inner workings of the secretive conclave inside the walls of the Sistine Chapel and the like.
Certainly worthy of its two-hour running time.
Check it out on Netflix this November.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is currently working on a book about the American Cinema Renaissance (1967-present) with John H. Foote. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor