Debauched King Henry II installs his longtime court facilitator Thomas Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury, assuming that his old friend will be a compliant and loyal lackey in the King's ongoing battles with the church. But Becket unexpectedly finds his true calling on the ecclesiastical side, and aligns himself against the king's selfish wishes, causing a rift and an eventual showdown not only between the two men, but also the institutions they represent. Written by
When the play was due to open on the West End in London, Peter O'Toole was cast as Henry II. He had to break his contract however as he had just landed the lead in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). See more »
After Becket averts trial and climbs the stairs, he is followed by a baron who draws his sword. Becket is standing with his left side angled towards him, but after the cut to long as he leaves the room, Becket is clearly angled towards him with his right side. 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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A bizarre love triangle - Henry II, Becket and God
Richard Burton is "Becket" in this 1964 film starring Peter O'Toole as Henry II and John Gielgud in a small role as the King of France. King Henry creates a Frankenstein monster when he makes his best friend, Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, believing this will solve all of his problems with the Church. It's a decision he lives to regret. Becket finds that he loves serving God and is in his rightful place, living a life of prayer, retreat, and helping the poor and the needy. When he comes up against the King, his response is not what Henry expects. Becket now serves another master - God.
This is such a beautiful film, not only the sweeping landscapes and muted colors but the stunning, sometimes stark images throughout of the two men, the scene on the beach toward the end in particular.
"Becket" is a clash of two titan actors and historical figures. O'Toole and Burton, so different in their acting approaches, are a match made in heaven, with O'Toole playing Henry as a childish, selfish rogue in a very overt performance and Burton playing Becket with an internalized quiet strength and resolve. They are both magnificent. Both deserved the Oscars for which they were nominated; they didn't receive them. O'Toole would go on to play Henry II again in Lion in Winter, giving him an interesting place in cinematic history - he's the only actor to play the same character in two completely different films, neither one of which was a sequel or prequel (before you invoke the name of Al Pacino).
Much is made in these films of historical inaccuracies. What makes these period movies so wonderful is whether or not you watch them knowing much of the history, after you've seen them, you rush to the Internet to read more. I was most interested in the homoerotic aspects of the relationship between Becket and Henry - but none was mentioned in anything I read. It was, however, very apparent on the screen.
The '60s was really a time of these great historical dramas, similar to that period later on when Merchant-Ivory produced their many sweeping films. In a time of Spiderman and Transformers, these wonderful character-driven films are sorely missed. This is a particularly fabulous one.
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