I watched a film last night about two old poops.
It reminded me of The Odd Couple–starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. You know the schtick: fussbudget guy has to share an apartment with the sloppy jock. First they fight, then they become buddies.
So sloppy George turns up at the papal summer residence with his shoes untied and his shirt tail hanging out. He’s not sure how to button up his bishop’s soutane and stares slack jawed at his sumptuous surroundings. Feeling out of place he sits up front with the chauffeur and gets chummy with the gardener. Settling down to watch some footie on the telly, ordinary George meets fussy, piano playing Joseph who doesn’t recognize the Abba tune George is whistling, and thinks he knows who the Beatles are but doesn’t really. Fussy Joseph is querulous and quarrelsome while goofy but loveable George is easy going and open minded.
Eventually the two old poops get over their disagreements. George starts to respect Joseph and Joseph decides to pack it in and hand over the keys of the apartment to George. In the end George grabs Joseph and teaches him to tango.
Heart warming stuff.
In fact, The Two Popes is pretty much a template buddy movie. Here is Planes, Trains and Automobiles with loveable slob John Candy countering neurotic obsessive Steve Martin. Here is Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon and Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. You can probably come up with a dozen more off the top of your head.
As a movie, The Two Popes is pretty good. I enjoyed it. Being churchy, I liked the scenes in the Vatican, the pomp of the papacy and the personalities involved. Hopkins and Pryce were perfectly cast and both actors are mesmerizing. They played Benedict and Francis as the script was written perfectly.
I liked The Two Popes in the same way I have enjoyed the Netflix series The Crown. The real life circumstances of ordinary people in extraordinary positions lend themselves to high drama and it’s hard to look away. Turning history into drama is nothing new. Shakespeare did it with his history plays, and he wasn’t the first. The real life characters involved in the passion of politics, pleasure and power provide the playwright with the opportunity to explore deeper human themes and the inner workings of the heart and mind. It’s the playwright’s job to plumb the depths and bring out the underlying motivations and reveal the deeper themes within the true life drama.
The Two Popes took time to explore the events behind Pope Francis’ rise to the papacy. This was helpful in attempting to understand Francis and helped us feel sympathetic toward him. I wish they had done the same for Benedict–showing his encounter with Nazism, his struggles through the Second Vatican Council and his own personal vulnerabilities. Alas, this was not to be. The film was a pro-Francis puff piece, and to promote Francis they needed a foil, and Benedict provided the perfect sounding board. Consequently, despite Hopkins’ best efforts, Benedict came off as no more than a weary and disillusioned reactionary only too willing to throw in the towel at the first opportunity.
I enjoy historical drama, and some of the recent films like The Crown, The Queen and The Iron Lady ( film on Margaret Thatcher’s life) have been excellent. As drama The Two Popes was also admirable. I enjoyed seeing the contrast of personalities, the development of the friendship and the clash and resolution of theories and world views. As drama it was enjoyable, but the problem with historical drama is that it soon becomes the accepted historical narrative. A good play is a good play, but it should not be mistaken for the facts.
The mass audience, alas, have neither the education nor the inclination to pursue the facts instead of the fiction. The fiction is much more enjoyable to watch and much more enjoyable to believe. As an illustration of this, I have just finished Donald Spoto’s biography of Marilyn Monroe as research for a play I am planning. Spoto does a great job at the end of the book in researching Monroe’s tragic and sordid death. Soon after her demise the rumors circulated that she was murdered by the Kennedy clan because she had state secrets attained through her affairs with Jack and Bobby Kennedy. This rumor and conspiracy theory is still peddled, and in popular culture it is taken as fact. Spoto painstakingly uncovers the real facts. It really was an accidental overdose.
But the juicy story of a conspiracy theory and murder by the most powerful clan in the land is much more exciting. Likewise with The Two Popes…Bergoglio and Ratzinger did not meet at Castel Gandolfo. Benedict did not reveal to Bergoglio that he was going to resign. They did not play out The Odd Couple 2 – The Vatican Story. But the heartwarming story of how sloppy loveable George won over fussy nit picky Joseph is much more fun, and hey, when the future of the whole world is at stake fun fan fiction is always much better than facts right?
The whole thing was entertaining and even thought provoking drama.
A documentary it was not.