Netflix’s ‘The Two Popes’ shows a historic transition of power

‘The Two Popes’ – How film depicts the Catholic Church

Anthony Hopkins (left) and Jonathan Pryce star in “The Two Popes,” which begins streaming Friday on Netflix.

Catholicism and the Roman Catholic Church has been fodder for filmmakers here and abroad for almost as long as movies have been made. The latest comes this week in a high-profile release featuring a pair of heavyweight talents on Netflix.

In “The Two Popes,” which begins streaming Friday, Dec. 20, Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles (“The Constant Gardener”) tells the intimate story of one of the most dramatic transitions of power within the Church in the last 2,000 years, that of the one between the conservative Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins, “The Silence of the Lambs”) and the liberal Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce, “Barbarians at the Gate”). Set against the backdrop of a scandal that would rock its foundations, the movie shows how these two men must confront elements of their pasts to find common ground and forge a way forward for its one billion followers worldwide.

Anthony Hopkins (left) and Jonathan Pryce star in “The Two Popes,” which begins streaming Friday on Netflix.

Of course, not all movies depicting the Church are heavy and some can even be downright light-hearted. The following is a list of some of the most noteworthy.

“Going My Way” (1944): On the lighter side, there is this Oscar-winning musical-comedy from Leo McCarey (who also took home a best director statuette) that stars Bing Crosby as a young priest who takes over a struggling parish in a tough New York neighborhood and gets it turned around, inspiring his superiors along the way.

“The Bells of St. Mary’s” (1945): Crosby and McCarey again team up for this drama in which Crosby reprises his “Going My Way” role of Father O’Malley, who works to save his Catholic school with the help of a nun (Ingrid Bergman).

“The Nun’s Story” (1959): Audrey Hepburn has the title role in director Fred Zinnemann’s fine drama about a Belgian woman who surrenders her upper-class life to enter a convent, where she struggles with her vows amid many challenges, among them World War II.

“The Cardinal” (1963): Otto Preminger earned a best director Oscar nomination for his drama about a young priest (Tom Tryon) who fights bigotry, Nazism and personal conflict as he rises to the office of cardinal.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy” (1965): Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) struggles to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling amid his many conflicts with Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) in director Carol Reed’s somber epic drama.

“Mass Appeal” (1984): Jack Lemmon stars as a by-the-book priest whose conservative views clash with those of the firebrand liberal deacon (Zeljko Ivanek) assigned to his parish in this drama from director Glenn Jordan (“Only When I Laugh”).

“Agnes of God” (1985): Jane Fonda does fine work as a court-appointed psychiatrist assigned to a novice nun (Meg Tilly) found with a dead baby in her convent quarters. Anne Bancroft also stars.

“Karol: A Man Who Became Pope” (2005): From Poland comes this biographical drama about the life of Pope John Paul II, from his days as a writer, actor and athlete in war-torn Poland to his election as pope at age 58 in 1978.

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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