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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
Becket's tomb became a popular destination for pilgrimages for centuries, but it was looted and destroyed in the early 16th century in the Dissolution of the Monasteries during Henry VIII's reign, as part of the Church of England's break from Rome. A shrine was later created at the site. See more »
In the excommunication scene, which took place in 1164, the monks are chanting the Dies Irae, a hymn said to have been composed by Thomas of Celano, who lived from 1200-1260. The hymn is also heard in the opening scene as Henry walks through the cathedral, which would have been in 1173. 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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Classic historical drama with excellent performances from the two leads... Peter O'Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as his best friend turned nemesis, Thomas Becket. From the start Henry II is not the most benevolent of kings... he steals young girls from their families for his own carnal pleasures... and even tricks Becket into sending the woman he loves to the King's bed. King Henry gets the idea that it might end his problems with the church if he names his best friend Archbishop... but he underestimates Becket's faith (as does Becket himself). Eventually Becket has to choose between his duty to the King and his duty to God... an unenviable choice that bodes ill no matter which choice he makes. Obvious homoerotic undertones to the relationship between the two strong-willed individuals... hard to imagine that this sort of material was palatable to audiences in the early 60s. Great script, great actors, great sets and costumes... a must see!
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