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LFF 2019: "The Two Popes" - Welcome back Hopkins

November 27, 2019

Recently, I have found myself disappointed with Anthony Hopkins. Much like Robert De Niro, Hopkins is a wonderful actor that has the emotional range and screen presence that so many actors desire. However, both have gone from delivering emotionally complex performances to performing in bizarre ways; you cannot help but wonder whether either of them care about acting anymore (see "Dirty Grandpa" and "Transformers: The Last Knight"). However, much like De Niro’s comeback in "The Irishman", Hopkins seems to have his groove back with his compelling performance as Pope Benedict in Fernando Meirelles’ "The Two Popes". 

 

"The Two Popes" deals with the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Set primarily in 2012, one year before Benedict’s surprise resignation, we find Francis struggling with his own faith as he is about to leave the church. He meets with Pope Benedict (Hopkins) to discuss his future with the church. As the film continues, we get numerous witty and insightful conversations between the two characters. 

 

The battle between Benedict’s more conservative views and Francis’ more liberal views is certainly an interesting one. However, it is the entrancing display of character vulnerabilities found in the script that takes the lead in "The Two Popes". There are many entertaining scenes involving Francis’ love of football and his more modern take on the church compared to Benedict.  We also get a wonderful scene of the elder pope playing the piano, a real-life skill known to anyone who follows Hopkin’s Twitter.  Often, we think of these characters as being larger than life, but screenwriter Anthony McCarten does a remarkable job at humanising these characters. 

 

Credit: Allociné

 

Hopkins delivers his best performance in years. He’s reserved but equally effortlessly delivers those booming tantrums that he became so well known for during his early career. Perhaps the real stand out performance of the film is not by Hopkins but rather Pryce. Having recently watched Terry Gilliam’s "Brazil", it’s hard to think of many actors that have his range. Francis is the meatier part and Pryce does everything he can to chew through it. 

 

There are some odd choices made throughout the film. Whilst the soundtrack and choice of songs are extremely effective, the score is often bizarre. One scene that follows Frances walking through the Sistine Chapel features a sultry saxophone reminiscent of those used in 1980s erotic thrillers. It was nice to see a less traditional score in a prestige drama, but it did often feel rather off-putting. Moreover, the film uses documentary and news footage to show some of the main events. This often took away from the film’s main narrative, making it more akin to watching a documentary than a feature. 

 

There is a slight emotional disconnect in the second half. Much of this section focuses on Francis’ background, which whilst being interesting, didn’t make me feel entirely connected. This is primarily because these scenes feature a different actor playing the younger Francis (Juan Minujín). Whilst he does a good job, these scenes also created a disjointed effect at times. Throughout the film we become accustomed to Pryce playing Francis, thus the drawn-out flashbacks played by Minujín make it hard to stay focused and invested. Perhaps the film would have benefitted more from hearing about his past through dialogue and Pryce’s fantastic performance. 

I do wish at points the film had been slightly more unique in its presentation and storytelling. It does succumb to many of the clichés of the genre e.g. overuse of narration, melodramatic flashbacks etc. However, what most biopics don’t have are fantastic performances by two brilliant lead actors. It’s a welcome return for Hopkins and a great spotlight on the talents of Pryce.  

 

Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor, and Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor

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