Generations clash in Netflix’s real life drama about the fate of the Catholic Church.
The abdication of the papacy by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 was unprecedented. The ascendancy of the more modern, liberal Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a stark contrast to the very conservative Benedict XVI, with the whole incident marking a turning point in the Catholic Church’s evolution in the 21st Century.
That story has been dramatized in this week’s new Netflix original The Two Popes. Anthony Hopkins plays Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce Bergoglio at a moment where the two men meet, the younger summoned by the older to discuss what has come before and what may lie in the future. How the two contrast in personality, theology and temperment creates tension in how the mantle is passed from one man to the next.
It’s not Netflix’s biggest current release, but the movie has still received a decent campaign that understands what its main selling points are and how to appeal to moviegoers and subscribers.
It’s not an action-packed image that graces the poster (by marketing agency P+A) released in late August. Benedict and Francis are shown deep in conversation on a serene lawn, a meal or snack placed on the table set between them. Francis is emphatically making a point which Benedict seems nonplussed by, but that’s about as dramatic as it gets here.
The first trailer (229,000 views on YouTube), released in September just as festival season started, immediately shows the dynamic between Benedict and Francis, the latter seeing the former as a young upstart without respect for the past. Benedict is a proud and confident man, convinced he’s done right by the church and God. He sees Francis as an insult and condemnation of his work. The differences between the two are made clear by showing how they spend their time as well as the attitudes they bring to their positions. Mostly the sales pitch here is that watching the two actors play off each other will be worth the audience’s time, which is hard to refute.
November’s second trailer (492,000 views on YouTube) goes into more detail about why the two men find themselves at such an interesting meeting point. Benedict feels his time in the papacy has come to an end in part because of the troubles that have plagued the church, while Francis refuses to believe he could ever be considered for such a position. While the story is fleshed out a bit more, the core message remains the same, that the movie’s key attraction is the promise of two premiere actors playing against each other.
Online and Social
Netflix created a website for the movie that had the basic marketing information on it along with links to buy tickets to the limited theatrical showings booked for the film. There were also Facebook and Instagram profiles that helped promote it on social media, with Netflix’s brand account doing the job on Twitter.
Advertising and Promotions
Festival screenings included the Telluride Film Festival, where it generated very good reviews for its performances and direction, and then the London Film Festival and Hamptons Film Festival. After a screening at the Miami Film Festival it was given the Audience Award.
A song from the film’s score by Bryce Dessner was released a week or so before the film’s debut.
Media and Press
An interview with Pryce allowed him to talk about his own feelings on the Pope he plays and how the role fits into his career as a whole. He later spoke at the movie’s premiere about the themes of the story and how he hopes it creates more understanding in the world. The need for unity was also covered by producer Dan Lin.
Dessner spoke about creating the film’s score and seeking to underscore some of the more emotional moments.
That the AARP has nominated the movie in a couple categories of its “Movies For Grownups” awards is unsurprising given that’s exactly how the movie has been sold. It’s not a high prestige release, nor is it a teen comedy, it’s a drama featuring a couple veteran actors in a story that’s free from anything resembling an action sequence.
While it’s made good impression with critics on the festival circuit it’s not clear that acclaim will translate into audience success or buzz. Netflix’s campaign isn’t to blame for that, it’s sold the movie well, highlighting its strengths in a way that is compelling for those who are into movies like this.