06 June 2019, The Tablet

A tale of two Popes


Theatre

A tale of two Popes

Lynsey Beauchamp and Anton Lesser in rehearsal for The Pope
Photo: Manuel Harlan

 

It was a chance trip to St Peter’s Square in Rome that led to a new play – and soon-to-be movie – about the relationship between Francis and Benedict

Writers often come upon their subjects by luck. For Anthony McCarten, bad family news became creative good fortune. The screenwriter of movies including biopics Bohemian Rhapsody, The Theory of Everything and Darkest Hour, which dramatises Winston Churchill’s agonised dilemmas in 1940, was on a holiday in Rome six years ago when his mother contacted him to say that an aunt had died.

“My mum said: ‘Can you go into a church and light a candle for her?’” McCarten recalls. “And it wasn’t much of a challenge to find one in that city. But I decided to go to the top, so went to St Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis was saying an open-air Mass. And my girlfriend happened to mention that her dad had worked for Pope Benedict XVI, when he was a priest in Munich. And she pointed out that Benedict was now sequestered in a convent just behind the balcony where Francis was speaking. And so we googled on her phone how long it was since there had been two Popes alive. And the answer was 700 years. And everything has come from that.”

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