Review: 'The Two Popes' takes on leadership, spirituality and friendship

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce play the two figures at the center of a once-in-several-lifetimes changeover

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

An odd transition of power makes for a charming, offbeat buddy picture in "The Two Popes," the story of an unlikely friendship between two men brought together by extraordinary circumstances. 

Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whom Benedict handpicked to succeed him when he stepped off the throne in 2013. "The Two Popes" looks at this almost unprecedented chapter in history — the only other time a pontiff resigned was in the 1400s — and strips it down to its human bones. Yes, they're the once and future leaders of the Catholic Church, with more than 1 billion global followers, but they're also just two guys eating pizza, drinking Fanta and watching soccer.

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in "The Two Popes."

Director Fernando Meirelles ("City of God") and screenwriter Anthony McCarten ("Darkest Hour," "The Theory of Everything") open in 2005 with the death of Pope John Paul II. It's there we're introduced to Bergoglio, whose love of ABBA (and "Dancing Queen," in particular) signals he's not your run-of-the-mill man of the cloth. 

Benedict is much more traditional, especially in his beliefs, which catches up to him several years into his papacy. He must step down in order for the church — embroiled in controversy amid ongoing sex abuse scandals — to move forward, and he recognizes Bergoglio is the man for the job, even at a time when Bergoglio himself is considering vacating his own position in the church.

So the two enter into a dance of sorts, and "The Two Popes" becomes an acting showcase for Hopkins and Pryce as these two figures feel each other out. What emerges is a discussion of beliefs and responsibilities, yes, but mostly the story of two men at personal and ideological crossroads that happened to intersect on a world stage. 

'The Two Popes'


Rated PG-13: for thematic content and some disturbing violent images

Running time: 126 minutes 

In theaters today, on Netflix Dec. 20