The Catholic Church has weathered many crises in the two millennia and counting of its existence. But even an institution that has seen mankind go from the Roman empire to the 21st century can suddenly find itself facing a completely new situation. That happened in 2013, when the current Pope, Benedict XVI, decided to retire rather than die in office. The result was that the Church, for the first time, had two living Popes when Francis was elected. Now, Netflix's The Two Popes trailer promises a film that will explore how this unprecedented era came about.
It perhaps was merely a matter of time before something like this happened. Not because of modern life and retirement becoming the norm in society, but a product of modern medicine. People live far longer than was once considered possible. (Queen Elizabeth II is a perfect example. Most assumed Charles would ascend before the end of the 20th century, and here it is nearly 2020 with no sign of her reign ending anytime soon.)
In a different century, Benedict, who was born in 1927, might not have made it to 2013. But as human lifespans continue to extend, it's perhaps not surprising that the 21st century would see the first Pope who voluntarily stepped down.
Even so, such a dramatic change in how the Church operates is ripe for drama. The Two Popes trailer promises it in spades.
It helps that Benedict and Francis are about as diametrically opposite in their views on Christianity as one could get. Benedict is a conservative, who for many years wrote papers defending traditional Catholic doctrine and values. As Pope, he did not reverse the modernizations of the 1960s known as "Vatican II," but he did push back against some of them, including promoting the use of Latin. Benedict pushed against any secularization of the Church's ethics. He was also big on the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church to help preserve the hierarchy, including reviving traditional papal garments.
Francis, on the other hand, was known for years as a far more liberal practitioner. He believes deeply in the Church's commitment to the poor and downtrodden. He's also a promoter of making Catholicism more accessible, not less. Under his guidance, the Church has presented a more open and welcoming face to the public (including a Twitter account!), and been working on interfaith outreach.
That these are the two popes that live during the same era is a remarkable story, both in the history-making aspect and in the dramatic one. With highly decorated actors in both roles, Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis, this looks to be a remarkable film.
The Two Popes had its first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, clearly marking it as one to watch for the awards season chase. It will land in theaters on a limited release schedule on Nov. 27, 2019, where it will run for just under a month. The film will premiere on Netflix just in time for the holidays, on Dec. 20, 2019.