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As the story opens, King Henry II, who ruled England from 1154 to 1189 has entered Canterbury Cathedral to do penance at the tomb of his former friend, Thomas Becket. Bare to the waist, the king kneels to receive a flogging from Saxon monks. He begins to reminisce, recalling at first the carefree, promiscuous adventures with Becket, then his favorite drinking and wenching companion. A violently emotional drama that probes the changing relationship between two young men - between two close friends bound together by similar pride of flesh and spirit who become deadly enemies as they pursue their separate destinies . . . that of king . . . and saint. Written by
At the beginning of the DVD commentary, O'Toole relates his meeting with Anouilh in Paris a few years before the film was made because he was being considered for the play. Anouilh told him that he had been looking for an idea based on a rift in the leftist Théâtre National Populaire between the actors Gérard Philipe and Daniel Ivernel. He visited Canterbury and decided the Becket story would be a good vehicle. Philipe and Ivernel were cast as Becket and Henry respectively for the Paris premiere of the play, but Philipe died during rehearsals. See more »
Contrary to one of the film's central plot lines, Thomas à Becket was a Norman (Thomas Bequet), not a Saxon. Jean Anouilh admitted he discovered this after having finished his play, having based it on the outdated 1825 work "The History of the Conquest of England by the Normans", by Augustin Thierry; but he decided that it made a better story the way he had written it. See more »
King Henry II:
Well, Thomas Becket. Are you satisfied? Here I am, stripped, kneeling at your tomb, while those treacherous Saxon monks of yours are getting ready to thrash me. Me - with my delicate skin. I bet you'd never have done the same for me. But - I suppose I have to do this penance and make my peace with you. Hmm. What a strange end to our story. How cold it was when we last met - on the shores of France. Funny, it's nearly always been cold - except at the beginning, when we were friends....
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Towering performances by 2 actors at the zenith of their powers.
My comments here tend to be Misremembrances of things past. I know I saw "Becket" decades ago while I must have been suffering from a periodic bout of reviling Richard Burton. Having recently seen "Cleopatra" again, I will forgive myself. Still, there are movies that I've enjoyed - "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and "The Night of the Iguana", to name 2 - so I thought I'd give "Becket" another try.
Historical movies are among my favorites, although the IMDB parameter of not spoiling restricts me from discussing plot. But this is a movie that made me click on here to see who directed it...since directing Burton and O'Toole must have been like being a meterologist tracking a tornado and a hurricane. Their synergy is astounding...but whereas O'Toole launches himself on occassion into a thespian stratosphere it is Burton's performance that is incandescent. There are scenes..."inner monologues" - queries to God, where the ribald Burton is transformed into a man illuminated by a spiritual puzzle - he cannot believe that he is becoming who he is becoming - and it is Burton's challenge to share that bewilderment with us.
Well, I'm comforted that I can now stretch the glory days of historical film-making at least to "Becket." Any film in which John Gielgud, Martita Hunt, Felix Aylmer and Pamela Brown are "supporting" - how do I put it, "supporting" performances such as these are most other actors' triumphs. The costumes and sets are sumptous. Finis.
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