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Reviews - The Two Popes

The Two Popes

Reviewed By Stephen Pye

The Two Popes
The Two Popes
Fernando Meirelles's "The Two Popes" has become an audience favourite on the festival circuit: and it proved to be equally as popular at the Alhambra on sunday evening, the audience awarding it the highest vote for any film in the last three years! It is "easy" to see why.

This lively, intriguing and insistently humanistic flight of fancy — imagined conversations between hard-line conservative Pope Benedict XVI and his more progressive successor, Pope Francis — brims with wit, warmth and some tantalizing what-ifs. Whether the fact that it's mostly pure speculation will get in the way of the audience’s enjoyment will depend on each viewer's threshold for artistic license. Clearly it didn’t matter much last Sunday in Keswick!!

Here, screenwriter Anthony McCarten ("The Theory of Everything," "Darkest Hour") confects to have the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) visit Benedict (Anthony Hopkins at the papal summer residence, to request in person what he’s been asking for in several unanswered letters: permission to retire. But Benedict — in failing health, besieged by financial wrongdoing at the Vatican and a sexual abuse scandal that is roiling the Catholic church around the globe — has something else in mind. Over a few days that take the duo from the pope's extravagant lakeside gardens at Castel Gandolfo to the Sistine Chapel, the two banter and gently argue about everything from the finer points of Catholic theology to the Beatles.

The acting is a sheer pleasure, as are the film sets: the pope’s residence is actual whereas the Sistine Chapel was painstakingly reconstructed. The opulence and beauty of the opening scenes at the papal conclave in Michelangelo’s masterwork are wonderfully accompanied by Abba's "Dancing Queen"!

There has been criticism from the Catholic hierarchy that the film is skewed towards Pope Francis at the expense of Pope Benedict. This is unfair. If anything, Hopkins portrayal of the retiring pope is both nuanced and endearing, capturing his wonderful scholasticism and his Germanic wit.

The film is heart warming in its portrayal of these two very different yet holy individuals. It was a heart warming experience and maybe a necessary corrective to these supposed secular times.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

Since then, the club has won Film Society Of The Year and awards for Best Programme four times and Best Website twice.

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