And because drama depends on conflict, “it’s not surprising that the film overstates the differences between Benedict and Francis.”
But those overstated differences include falsehoods, Greydanus said.
That Cardinal Ratzinger was ambitious for the papacy, as the film depicts, is also a well-known falsehood, Greydanus noted.
Even the film’s screenwriter, McCarten, in his nonfiction book “The Two Popes,” “lays out the evidence that the papacy was the last thing Ratzinger wanted, that for over a decade he had wanted to retire and devote himself to study and writing,” the critic said.
For his part, Milan took issue with the film’s portrayal of Benedict XVI as an angry and shouting person and as experiencing one of these moments of “lost connection” to God right before making the decision to resign the papacy.
Greydanus agreed. “Anyone who has benefitted from Ratzinger’s writing over the years knows how irenic he was in dialogue even with points of view he strongly disagreed with,” he said.
“The peevish, suspicious character in the film is a graceless caricature sometimes elevated by Hopkins’ subtle acting choices.”
Milan added that he would tell Catholics who might see “The Two Popes” that “they are going to watch a film with a lot of fiction.”
While he said the film was “interesting,” and ends on a constructive note, but “I wouldn’t say a Catholic should watch this film,” Milan added.
Meirelles, the director, told CNA as he researched for the film and as he watched Hopkins’ portrayal of Benedict, he came to realize Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI are “not so different as I thought in the beginning,” but that he still prefers “Pope Francis’ approach, really linked to the world, looking at what is around him.”
From Brazil, Meirelles is best known for co-directing "City of God," the 2002 film based in a favela of Rio de Janeiro. He said he is Catholic but stopped attending Mass as a child.
It was not religion that drew him to accept the offer of directing the film, but politics, he stated; “I think [Pope Francis] understands the world in a way I agree.”
The director said that the film also has spiritual and personal elements to be considered.
“On a personal level, it’s a conversation between two men who don’t agree on most of their things, on most points. But they have to come to a common ground because they’re part of the same institution,” he described.
The spiritual element of the film, he said, is the idea that, even if you believe in God or another divine being, “at some point you lose connection.” Meirelles compared the Catholic concept of an intense period of spiritual desolation, sometimes called a “dark night of the soul,” with having an unfocused yoga session.
“This idea of not hearing God, of course it works for Catholics, but it works as well for anybody who has any beliefs,” he said.
The film mixes in real-life news footage from the conclaves and from historic events “to make it feel real,” but it is not a documentary or a “conventional biopic,” Meirelles said, explaining that the movie was supposed to be called “The Pope,” and to be centered on telling Francis’ story. But in the final months, the name was changed.
A large portion of “The Two Popes” is dedicated to flashbacks to significant moments in Pope Francis’ life in Buenos Aires, such as when he discerned a call to the priesthood and the Jesuits, and his action and inaction during the Argentina’s junta rule in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
There are moments of realism, such as showing Benedict’s affinity for Fanta. And the director pointed out some of the dialogue is adapted from real writings or speeches of the two popes, although quotes are used out of context and out of sync with the actual timeline.
Jonathan Pryce is a Welsh actor who plays Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s character in “The Two Popes.”
He told CNA he admires Francis’ politics as well. “Normally I would have gone, ‘do I really want to play a pope?’ but I wanted to play this pope with this script, with this director.”
Pryce said he grew up in the Protestant tradition.
“This was the first pope I felt was speaking to me in political terms,” he said. “Obviously the religious aspects I listened to and heard, but they were a given in a way. I liked the idea that he was a progressive and a socialist, which to me, socialism is a form of Christianity... Christian tenets are socialist tenets,” Pryce said.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, saw the film at a screening Dec. 11.
He did not comment on the movie itself, when asked about it at an unrelated press conference Dec. 12, but called it an “interpretation.”
Turkson also said that while Pryce has a close physical resemblance to Cardinal Bergoglio, and pulled off his mannerisms well, he did not think Hopkins managed the same with Pope Benedict.
“The guy who played Benedict was a little too robust, too strong. If you see it, you’ll see that. Pope Benedict is feebler, softer spoken,” Turkson said.
A large advertisement for “The Two Popes” went up on scaffolding outside a Vatican-owned building Dec. 17. The building, which sits on the main street in front of St. Peter’s Square, is Vatican extraterritorial property and controlled by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, also called Propaganda Fide.
Though Turkson and other Vatican officials have seen the movie in private screenings, the Vatican has not publicly commented on it.
“The Two Popes” will stream on Netflix starting Dec. 20.