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Films to watch when the cinemas are closed

06 April 2020

Stephen Brown offers ideas for home viewing

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes

AS CINEMAS are closed, film-lovers need to rely on home entertainment. DVDs/ Blu-rays can be rented (try Cinema Paradiso) or bought (various online suppliers). Then there are internet apps and streaming services.

The Two Popes (Cert.12A) on Netflix delights: depicting the build-up to the resignation of Anthony Hopkins’s Pope Benedict and his succession by Jonathan Pryce’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. What the latter perceives as necessary change the former regards as compromise.

“What’s that you’re whistling?” asks Benedict. “‘Dancing Queen’. Abba.” But Benedict can think only of Jesus’s word for God the Father.

Meeting-points do arise. The director Fernando Meirelles presents truth as something vital, but, without love, unbearable. They ponder past mistakes. Eventually, it’s two old pals drinking beer watching (aptly) the Argentina v. Germany World Cup Final. Jorge, now Pope Francis, with Benedict’s blessing, works towards a Church “bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets”.

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy (Cert. 12A) totals 532 minutes (DVD, Amazon Prime), Tolkien’s book under 400 pages. The demon dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) threatens Middle-Earth. Its unlikely saviour is Bilbo (Martin Freeman), transcending others’ moral backwardness, and not without personal cost: the price paid for spiritual growth. The author’s profound faith shines like an invisible lamp illuminating salvation throughout the films. If your stamina holds out, you will conclude with the film that “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Mary Magdalene (Cert.12A) is a cut above many Jesus movies. It still falls short of Pasolini’s 1964 The Gospel According to St Matthew (Cert. PG), also on DVD. Nevertheless, this proto-feminist Mary (Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) reinforces New Testament perceptions: Jesus was good news for women. Its imagination soars beyond the biblical narrative and yet remains impressively scriptural. She, unlike the men, represents an intuitive understanding of Jesus. Joaquin Phoenix, son of missionaries in the discredited Children of God movement, gives him Johnny Cash’s intensity (Walk the Line) plus Freddie’s vulnerability (The Master).

When the going gets tough, the apostles get going. Women stand by their man. It’s to the Magdalene that the Risen Lord first appears. The film, often moving, speaks to our time though, as contemporary interpretations go, Jesus of Montreal (Cert.18) does it better. Look out, too, for YouTube’s short film I Am Pilate (which has an Easter Day screening on the London Live, too). A modern-day journalist, sent to interview a former district governor, reveals an extraordinary secret.

Hop (Cert. U), a DVD often streamed, may be exactly the right family film for the holiday weekend. It is superficially a live-action/animation comedy about the Easter Bunny’s son (Russell Brand) abandoning his father’s business in search of a higher calling. Emulating Tolkien, however,it offers clear parallels to the Passion, and evil powers appear to triumph before an ultimate victory over sin and death.

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