Brow Beat

How to Tell HBO’s The New Pope From Netflix’s The Two Popes

Two trailers, four pontiffs.

Left: Anthony Hopkins wearing papal robes, arms lifted. Right: Jude Law wears a speedo on the beach.
Can you spot the difference?
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by HBO and Netflix.

OK, I’m watching a trailer, and there are two popes in it.

Is one of them wearing nothing but an itty-bitty white Speedo?

What? No. All these popes are fully clothed, you weirdo.

That’s the trailer for The Two Popes, a movie about the relationship between two real popes: Pope Benedict XVI and his eventual successor, Cardinal Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis). It’s directed by Oscar nominee Fernando Meirelles, who made City of God.

Hold on, Jude Law just arrived, and he is wearing an itty-bitty white Speedo. Wow, sorry for calling you a weirdo.

That’s the trailer for The New Pope, Paolo Sorrentino’s followup to his 2017 TV series, The Young Pope.

Young Pope—that was a show about a Catholic rapper, right?

Actually, it starred Jude Law as a fictional conservative American archbishop who becomes the highest-ranking member of the church at only 47, making him a relatively youthful pontiff.

That explains the title. But why is the new season called The New Pope?

Jude Law’s character falls into a supposedly irreversible coma after the events of the first season, so they elect a new pope.

And that new pope is … Anthony Hopkins?

Nope. You’re thinking of The Two Popes again. Anthony Hopkins is playing Pope Benedict. Jonathan Pryce is playing Pope Francis.

So Anthony Hopkins is playing the old pope.

Correct.

And Jonathan Pryce is playing the man who will become the new pope.

Yep.

But the movie is NOT The New Pope.

Now you’re getting it.

Then who is the new pope in The New Pope?

John Malkovich. We don’t know much about his character yet, except that he’s British.

You’re telling me British actor Jude Law played an American pope and now American actor John Malkovich is playing a British pope in the same show?

Acting!

What is Jude Law doing in this trailer, strutting past all these hot babes on a beach, if his character is supposed to be in a coma?

The Young Pope was pretty surreal, so I wouldn’t take anything you see in the trailer too literally. But Sorrentino hints pretty strongly that Law’s character’s coma “may not be so irreversible” and that both popes will have to co-exist.

So Jude Law and John Malkovich will both play the pope.

Right.

At the same time.

Mm-hm.

But the show is NOT The Two Popes.

You got it.

Wasn’t there an actual historical period in which there were really two popes at the same time?

Yes, you’re thinking of the Western Schism. After Pope Gregory XI’s death in 1378, a new pope was elected and took the name Urban VI, but he was so unpopular that a bunch of cardinals relocated and picked a different pope, Clement VII. This split the church for decades, and then in 1409, cardinals from each side of the schism met and decided the solution was to elect another pope, Alexander V.

Three popes?!

I know.

How come Pope Benedict can’t seem to remember the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” in the trailer?

He’s auditioning for Yesterday.

What’s the real reason?

The exchange between the out-of-touch Benedict and the savvier Francis could be a way to highlight the differences between the two men, as the rest of the trailer explores. It could also be a subtle reminder that in 2008, the Vatican’s official newspaper forgave John Lennon for his comment that the Beatles are “bigger than Jesus” and has since sung the band’s praises. Or it could be suggesting something more sinister: The official reason for Benedict’s resignation was his failing physical health, not anything that would affect his memory, but who knows?

Where can I watch The Two Popes?

It’s getting a limited theatrical release on Nov. 27 before heading to Netflix in December.

What about The New Pope?

If you’re at the Venice Film Festival, you can see a couple of episodes this weekend. Otherwise, you’ll have to pray it comes to HBO soon, because there’s no official debut date yet.