The Two Popes (2019, dir. Fernando Meirelles)

I’m not a religious man. I figure I would have ended up being in the church had I lived a couple of centuries ago, being of that sort of temperament, but not believing in any gods somewhat rules it out nowadays.

So I’m not necessarily the target audience for a film about Popes. It’s also smack-bang in the middle of Oscar bait territory. It’s a biopic about important white men on the cusp of an Important Event, starring two Great British Actors, filmed by a previous Oscar nominee from a script by someone with pedigree in this field.

I liked it. It was very well made. The two names were excellent, as was Juan Minjuin as Young Pope. I liked the way it mixed archive material with newly shot footage. It used black and white well, to represent the time before Pryce Pope took the hand of God. The photography and locations were sumptuous without. It had moments of levity, as well as barnstorming speeches on the state of the world. Considering the film was essentially a conversation, it was compelling throughout and the two hours flew by. I also liked the way it smuggled a Spanish language film into final third.

But it did fall foul of the usual issues plaguing prestige biopics. It artfully elides the portion of the film that would have contained a full discussion of child abuse in the Catholic Church. Hopkins Pope is called a Nazi, but his past is left unexplored. Ultimately, it’s a feel-good “people from different sides of the political spectrum can get along” story rather than anything truly challenging. You could argue that the film had a responsibility to properly address the facts, but I have no desire to pick that particular battle.

I’m fairly neutral on genres. Oscar bait is no better or worse than any of them. It’s whether the films themselves stand up. The Two Popes is one of the better examples of Oscar bait, and you’re likely to enjoy watching it. It’s just not going to stick with me, which is fine. Not every film is life changing, some are just a few pleasant hours of entertainment.