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We're so lucky this movie has been restored and is now playing in
select markets on the big screen.
This is the chance to see two of the top actors in the history of English-speaking theatre come together and parse lines. The joy in which they work together is apparent throughout.
Burton's performance is both intelligent and thoughtful. But it is O'Toole who steals the show with his characterization of Henry II, taking him from an irresponsible and demanding young king, to a less than happy husband and father and ultimately, to Burton's (and his own) worst enemy. Again, O'Toole leaves no emotional stone unturned, and it is his unleashed performance that gives the story its engrossing pace.
I've been a fan of this movie for nearly two decades now. I must have
seen it first when I was not yet in my teens. That is not the right age
to appreciate serious historical drama, but the plot, the dialogue, the
treachery and the acting were so intriguing that I became a fan.
I read the Jean Anouilh play a few years later. The dialogue in the movie is copied almost verbatim from the play. Powerful stuff - trust me! Where the movie really shines is in the acting. We have Peter O'Toole give an amazing (although at times too flashy) performance as King Henry. His counter is Richard Burton with his beautiful Welsh voice and restrained acting playing Thomas Becket.
You don't have to be a history buff to love this - in fact, it distorts history by showing Becket as a Saxon. This distortion is also used as a crucial point plot, but its great drama nonetheless with a lot of focus on characterisation.
The story of the friendship turned to conflict between Henry II and Thomas Beckett was successfully transferred to the screen in this film. Peter O'Toole seems rather consistently overwrought in his performance while Richard Burton is convincing as Beckett the jaded courtier but somewhat less so as the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury. In any event it remains a very good story and a good opportunity to see these two famous drinking buddies perform together at the height of their careers.
This story is about the power struggle that developed between Thomas
Becket and King Henry II. Before this occurs, the film gives a bit of
background, as the film begins with Becket as Henry's most trusted
friend and adviser. Because they were so close (and at times, I seemed
to have felt a homosexual undercurrent), it made Becket's refusal to be
a yes-man all the harder for Henry to accept. But, in his new church
office, Becket was not willing to consider even this dear
friendship--his primary responsibility was to his church.
The film handles this very long power struggle quite well. While the film doesn't quite give you the sense of time this occurred (on and off again for almost a decade), the reasons for it are well spelled out, the dialog sparkling and the entire production fascinating. I was particularly impressed by Richard Burton's performance as Becket--he underplayed it well. While Peter O'Toole also received an Oscar nomination like Burton for his performance, his Henry seemed a bit bombastic and overly dramatic. Perhaps this was the real Henry--though it seemed that occasionally this performance bordered on the over-acted. Still, this was a very, very minor gripe. With lovely production values, a good script and attention to details, this is a film well worth seeing--and one of the best costume dramas you can find.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thomas Becket(Richard Burton)is the Saxon servant and best friend of
the Norman King Henry The Second(Peter O'Toole).
The two could not have more different personalities,Henry is spoilt,quick to become angry,passionate and a firm strong as steel master of England.Whereas Thomas Becket is calm and patient,he is also fiercely loyal to the King and is his conscience in a way and the only one to whom Henry can unburden himself to and trust.
That is until sadly,the elderly Archbishop of Canterbury dies and Henry(to gain complete control of the church)appoints Becket as the new Archbishop of Canterbury thinking Becket will still be his.He is taken aback to discover that very soon Becket is God's entirely and a war develops between the King and Canterbury.
The outcome is deeply moving and the acting is just outstanding in it's excellence.If asked to choose between Richards Becket and O'Tooles King,I would have to say I can't as they are both stunning.However for the most intense performance I would have to go with Peter.
When on the screen he displays so many different conflicting emotions and blows hot and cold all the time.His is a very physical piece of acting whereas Burton(although just as excellent)has to convey everything with his eyes and face as a more passive and calm person than Henry.
Yet the sheer amount of different emotions etc that Peter has to convey is staggering so I lean more towards him.Yet it's Burton who moves the audience as a man who is torn between his friend and King and God and his duty to the church and his honour.It's he who has to make the audience his supporters through his goodness and little looks and expressions which is a very hard task to achieve well yet Burton manages fine.
A deeply moving film with some unforgettable acting and moments that deserves much more attention than it got at the time of it's release.
I think that both Burton and O'Toole were robbed on Oscar night at least one of them should have won best actor for their role in Becket.A must see film.
In a way, Beckett is an odd picture; it's almost as if the two lead actors
wandered in from two different movies. Burton plays Beckett so heavily
leaden that it is as if every line is meant to be etched in marble.
O'Toole, on the other hand, absolutely leaps from the screen in one of the
great, over the top, ham performances of all time. And oh boy, O'Toole is
the Honey Baked Spiral Ham of all Ham Actors; there's no one like
While the two leads seem an uneasy match, I felt that the movie worked very well. Beckett is supposed to be serious and sober, with Henry II the effervescent one. I just wish they could have injected some of O'Toole's life into Burton.
The story of "Becket" is an old one, and the saint is often exonerated
as an example of loyalty to God over man.
The movie would not be considered "Oscar" material today, possibly due to its religious content (always a controversial topic, I don't know why) and the theatriacs that O Toole's character King Henry frequently displayed.
However, fans of the film were intrigued by the tense relationship that eventually built up between the King and Becket. King Henry's black fits of rage were met by Becket's stoic expressions of calm, and this tempers the scenes throughout the movie.
Jealousy, anger and loneliness are all touched upon and explored by characters such as Henry' mother and his wife, Queen Eleanor. This was a good move on the part of the film makers since the only mention we have of her is relegated to a couple of lines in history books.
King Henry's fatal order to his knights possibly rivals the famous last words of Julius Caesar: "Et tu , brute?"
In fact, Becket is really an anti-hero with failings of his own. History books do not fill us in on the details, but as the King's constant companion he must have been quite jaded by the world before his conversion. In today's terms, his conversion would be likened to an international playboy who suddenly decides to leave it all and become a Trappist monk.
I have just watched this movie after an absence of many years and have to conclude that in general it still holds up well as a well crafted historical drama. OK, some of the historical facts are inaccurate but it should be remembered it is based on a play by French dramatist Jean Anouilh who by his own account, admitted that it contained a few inaccuracies but nevertheless remains true to history in the most important aspects, i.e.the clash between Church and State in the form of Archbishop Thomas a Becket and King Henry ll of England and the subsequent murder of the former. I'm inclined to think Peter O'Toole's acting is at times on over the top but that's preferable to most of the totally unconvincing cardboard cut-outs we get in Hollywood movies today that attempt mediaeval historical subjects, usually with disastrous results. Richard Burton can command attention from his voice alone and the two protagonists many scenes together always manage to hold your attention in a film that can at times drag on a bit. The superb Donald Wolfit adds gravitas to any film/play he partakes of so that's another plus. Cinematography is excellent, again far superior to most modern productions that seem devoid of realistic colour and the stereo sound of a well composed soundtrack is great. I guess if the great David Lean had been the director it would certainly have been better but as it stands it's highly watchable.
While there may be those who are not so taken with any historical
inaccuracies Becket has, as a film is very good. While a tad overlong,
it looks lavish, with fine cinematography and ravishingly beautiful
costumes, scenery and sets and has a very evocative music score. The
script is literate and very interesting, the story is very compelling
with some great scenes, the pace while mannered is also efficient and
the direction is more than competent.
The acting I have very little to criticise either. Both Richard Burton and Peter O' Toole are superb as Becket and Henry II, Burton is nicely understated and O' Toole is very flamboyant and shows a range that is equal to that of his role in Lion in Winter.
All in all, it is a very good film that is worth seeing for the leads. 8/10 Bethany Cox
I didn't think that it could be done but here Peter O'Toole has managed to outclass Richard Burton. Peter O'Toole who had already made his mark in cinematic history with the brilliant Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 surpasses himself in 1964 with Becket. An Oscar worthy performance yet again and the award this time was snatched away by the lesser actor Rex Harrison. Pity, but what a film. I can watch it again and again without getting bored. Peter O'Toole sends chills up my spine and Richard Burton delivers his role extremely well. There are chances where both actors can surpass each other but O'Toole steals all of them. The meeting between them at the beach, the discussion near the church and the argument in the palace of the king are all stolen by O'Toole. The sheer brilliance of this film is in the acting and the competition between O'Toole and Burton. No one seems to be senior to the other, the only difference is felt in age and that is only minimal. It is a film that appeals to almost all ages and if censored for some of its nudity, all ages. All I can say is, Bravo!
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