Back on the sofa, and another film that slipped through the Le Pard net during the old days of cinema visits. Dog chose a different lap to dribble into while one of our aged cats gave my lap the once over and decided the wooden floor looked more comfy. I rose above the feline slight and focused on the screen.
Films that are based on fact can often become rather lazy pieces, in part because the story arc has been laid out well in advance of the writer’s involvement. They tend to work well when the main players are publicly well known but whose hinterland is as opaque as Boris’ oratory.
So picking up on the tensions at the very pinnacle of the Catholic Church between the ultra conservative Joseph Ratzinger and the liberal supporter of reform Jorge Bergoglio at a time of crisis in that Church and tracing the public actions and pronouncements from Benedict’s elevation to the papacy to his retirement, the arc was a well trodden path.
I’m interested in history, in stories that have a wider impact though this wasn’t one I knew much about. Similarly and of more interest, I knew little of the two men’s back story. What this film did well, in a subtle and engrossing way was to take those known histories and imagine how two opponents could reach a point where they understood they had to help the other to achieve their goals. It was a nuanced portrayal of stubbornness, doubt and duty intertwining, set in the egregious opulence of the Vatican and the Pope’s summer retreat.
How much fact overlaid those interpretations is open to discussion, and, no doubt, liberties on a Michelangelo scale of lily-gilding were taken. But the crisp script in the hands of the consummate talents of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce was never less than engrossing.
If you like your films to have layers and depth, if two hours of talking heads in rococo rooms and topiaried gardens is your bag, then this could be for you. It was for me, even if the cat slept through most of it.