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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
Richard Burton initially turned the film down because he felt the idea of him playing a saint would cause the press to have a field day. He also said he would be more suited to playing Henry II. 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 Jean Anouilh admitted he discovered this after having finished his play, having based it on the outdated 1825 work "The History of the Conquest of England by the Normans", by Augustin Thierry; but he decided that it made a better story the way he had written it.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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Becket is one of my favorite movies. It is possibly the most underrated movie of all time and I consider it one of the top five greatest movies. It has everything for everyone and is done at such a high level too. The center point of this movie is definitely its writing.
The writing by Edward Anhalt is the best I have ever seen and that is no exaggeration. Line after line I was just in awe. Every line had so much meaning and just made more and more anxious on what would happen next. It was funny, witty, intelligent and serious all at the same time. I have never seen such an amazing blend of so many different themes and working so greatly. This is usually how movies falter not succeed but this movie was like five movies mixed into one yet very enjoyable mostly in part of the writing. Many people like to memorize lines from the Godfather series, but I believe this movie contains so much more than even the Godfather. The Godfather is more like one of those quote pamphlets with 10-15 pages. Becket is not just like but really seems to be a quote book with a couple of 100 pages filled with quotes. Still this movie was not done to impress with just good lines it has a real story to it. The story was so amazingly strung together along with its amazing quotes this script seems to be absolutely perfect.
The acting was at its best. Peter O'Toole gave a performance only second to his performance in Lawrence of Arabia. He displayed everything that a king has especially that of Henry II. He displayed the immaturity, the constant swaying of opinion according to how he feels and at the same the stubbornness that a king has not accepting what anyone else has to say, except for his close friend Thomas Becket, at least for a while. He portrayed such a complex and just down right strange character. Then there is Richard Burton who was nothing short of greatness either giving one of his best performances as well. He of course plays Thomas Becket who reluctantly stands up to his friend and his king, Henry II in the name of equality and for basic civil and human rights. His performance was the most inspiring performance I have seen from Richard Burton. In the movie he has surprised at his own transformation but yet proud of what he was doing because it is the right thing to do. Yet there is still more. John Gieglud gave a great supporting performance as King Louis the VII of France. He just added to the laughs and provided a much needed extra character and voice to add something a little different and gave some diversity as well. I believe he was very much overlooked for such a great performance, this not too shocking though when you are playing next to Burton and O'toole. As they say in sports he was the X-factor.
The directing and editing was also add its height. The directing by Peter Glenville was just spectacular when it came to art direction and costumes to the camera shots of the castles and ceremonies all the way back around to the cinematography. I have read that nobody knows how good a movie was edited except for the editor and director. In this case you can clearly see that this movie was edited together perfectly, with its great music and sound effects to stringing together all the scenes together to near perfection.
It is so clear that this movie was worked on very carefully and precisely and was not made just to make money but to provide a message and a purpose. It is just a sham that this movie lost best picture to My Fair Lady in a year that had so many great movies including Zorba the Greek, Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe, The Pawnbroker to even Mary Poppins. Yet Becket seems to have everything that undoubtedly what those great movies have in every technical aspect but most importantly in the multiple messages and themes that it has making it one of the best to have ever been conceived.
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