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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 Jean Anouilh admitted he discovered this after having finished his play, having based it on the outdated 1825 work "The History of the Conquest of England by the Normans", by Augustin Thierry; but he decided that it made a better story the way he had written it.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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After having read the other comments, I hardly feel able to improve upon what has already been so eloquently expressed. For anyone who enjoys high-caliber acting, intriguing dialogue, and complex relationships in a film, this is a must-see. I agree with a comment that Burton was shafted the oscar for his performance of Becket. It does seem at times that the Academy veers from rewarding darker, complex, mercurial characters in favor of anaesthitized heroic caricatures. It is one of the greatest tragedies of film-making that the talented are often unrewarded and forgotten. Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole are perfect foils in this film. The souring of their friendship makes a deeply moving story. Historical inaccuracies I can easily forgive; this is a dramatic film, not a documentary, and a director and screenwriter must condense lives into a believable and appealing plot. It is far better to make alterations than to have nothing such as this produced... (Having exposed myself thus, I must own that I am also a history scholar and usually a stickler regarding more inferior productions.) All in all, I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys superior acting and thought-provoking drama.
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