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BECKET is a film that seeks to explore the friendship and eventual
enmity that existed between Henry II and Thomas Becket, two of the most
famous characters in British history. Based on a play and filmed with
an exemplary cast, it's a fine example of the kind of serious,
old-fashioned, historical drama they don't make much of anymore.
The film is inevitably dominated by the presence of two acting heavyweights in the form of Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. O'Toole is very good as the fey, fun-loving king, but Burton is even better as the religious man suffering a crisis of conscience.
The film is slow-moving and long-winded, but somehow it still works. The history is interesting, the scene-setting helps to add a real air of authenticity, and it's great seeing familiar faces (Gielgud, Phillips, Wolfit) fleshing out the cast.
Watch for the final encounter between king and subject on the beach. Possibly the most beautifully filmed moment of cinema I've seen - check out the sky and the sea, the costumes and the hollow faces of O'Toole and Burton. Cinema really doesn't get any better than this...
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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Peril to a Saint"
The times were medieval, and the king a chauvinistic philanderer. England circa 1100s, King Henry II is rule, and his best friend and right-hand man, Sir Thomas Becket is Chancellor. Together they were an invincible political team. The King's fear, the Archbishop of Canterbury, his reason being that the Archbishop could overthrow his authority, by threats of excommunication, and Hell. As progression sets in we find the Archbishop of Canterbury dead, and the King placing Becket in his place.
Throughout the film I found humor in the wit of Henry, played by Peter O'Toole; his quick witted one liners brought bellows of laughter from my gut. The powerful voice control, and emotional element combined with the facial expressions of O'Toole were cynical in the film; the he delivered his lines would allow one to believe he were King Henry II. On top of O'Toole's performance, we have the also noteworthy performance of Richard Burton, making the role of Becket his own, and tearing the fabric on the idea of basic acting principle. Burton set a standard with his ability to deliver, witty and deep lines, dryly. The award nominated performance, stunned me at times throughout, by delivery and expression of the way Becket was.
As the film developed, it became more suspenseful, one must thank the script writers for keeping the eerie feel about that Anouilh had intended there be. The dialogue between Becket and Henry is yet one of the most memorable of a film to date, from their arguments and witty puns and comebacks to the way they became so deeply emotional at times. Though many times, before Henry had shown his chauvinism, one would have assumed he were the better of the two; right up until he spoke. The movie, filmed on location, made it all the more beautiful, on the spot filming gave the eerie effect that one would expect from a Medieval church, particularly one of such great latitude. Through scenes of betrayal, political scandal, Religious exile, and scenes of death, Canterbury played and important role., the Canterbury Cathedral was an excessively large building with an air of fear about it, set in place by the men who were so humbled by fear of excommunication.
Adding to the film was the refreshingly brilliant musical score, doused with everything form death marches, and Gregorian chants to musical motifs of Mozart. The direction the music took the film was one of a suspenseful nature, the timing of the music, and the feelings it set in were an additional topping on this cake. Through additional set members, we get the make-up crew, and lighting crew whom worked splendidly with one another to make the people look more drear and the building more drab, with an air of lonesome solitude and death, this is best seen in the Canterbury Cathedral scenes. All these elements combine to make for a breathtaking back setting for the film.
Action, betrayal, death, God and glory all come together for a story unparalleled. Overall, this film is hard to topple, with a cast of magnificent actors and actresses, a director with a mind out of this world, and lighting and make-up specialist who make the film complete. Add in the music director whom set a score that none would topple in an film near that same time, and the film is an explosion of ingenious elements. I would say, Becket is a splendid film, perfectly cast, and I find it to be enjoyable to most any tastes.
Razor sharp dialog peppers a surprisingly tight script (for a 2.5 hour historical drama) as Thomas Becket, whose only allegiance is to the honor of a job well done, goes from being his king's closest ally to his greatest nemesis simply because of a change in job title (from Chancellor to Arch Bishop of Canterbury). Peter O'Toole is great fun as the boorish, drunkard of a king who misreads his helpful subject's pragmatism as devotion. His domestic problems foreshadow his character's problems in THE LION IN WINTER. Richard Burton is cool and understated as the pursuit of excellence, which fueled his meteoric rise, now jeopardizes his safety. John Gielgud is a mischievous King Louis VII.
This is undoubtedly one of the finest films ever and it's typical
Academy Award idiocy to give Rex Harrison the Oscar for My fair Lady
(where no doubt he was superb) rather than Burton or O'Toole. While
Peter O'Toole is his usual brilliant self, and becomes Henry, it is
Burton who as the title character puts in a sublime but masterful
performance (pleasantly unlike his highly melodramatic and more
Burton-esquire Antony in 'Cleopatra'). John Gielgud is superb in the
few minutes he has on screen but it is the chemistry between O'Toole
and Burton which is incredibly compelling to watch.
Add to that a brilliant script, brilliant direction, superb cinematography, ignore the minor historical errors (attributable to the original work on which the film is based) and you have a film which will stand the test of time. After spending years searching for the DVD and finally having to watch it on an old video print, I'm delighted to see that it has been restored and released on DVD.
Stunning portrayal of the machinations of intimacy, power and spirituality against the backdrop of British history, war with France, and the relationship between Crown and Church. Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton are compelling. Thomas Becket goes from being the King's bosom buddy and Number Two Man of worldly affairs to being a meddlesome priest that the King must be rid of, while he personally suffers for having lost him to God. The only gap is that there is no strong female lead here. But, hey, couple this with a viewing of The Lion in Winter, and you have yourself a perfect evening of British historical fiction. Now all you need is tea service.
These tremendous actors Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole, one welsh, the other irish, were reunited for this intense drama about two main characters in the history of Britain. The film, shot in black and white at the early sixties, is a consumated study on power and friendship. You could say Burton and O'Toole were born to find themselves as Thomas and Henry...
An opportunity lost for two great acting talents, burdened with serious historical inaccuracies,a host of anachronisms,'modern' dialogue and a grotesque misrepresentation of Canterbury Cathedral in the twelfth century.There are those who will say that these inconsistencies don't matter,but the credibility of the story is,nevertheless, undermined. Having said that, I pay tribute to the ability of the principal actors and their development of the characters of Becket and Henry, tracing the shift in their relationship and its consequences, notwithstanding the fact that both appear to be more 'friendly' than contemporary accounts would have us believe.Nevertheless, as a good, rousing semi-historical drama, it always makes compulsive viewing.
Perhaps I love this film because of the friend who introduced me to it years ago. Perhaps I count this film as my favourite because it influenced me in high school to value film as I would a great literary work. Great films are indeed like great books. This is one. The superb acting and interplay between two screen giants, O'Toole and Burton, is fascinating to watch, even if only from a technical standpoint. The accent is on realism, even down to the pale, somewhat emaciated appearance of Peter O'Toole's King Henry II. Becket (Richard Burton) struggles to find the one thing in life that can truly satisfy above all others. He finds that honour in serving God to the point of alienating his dear friend and king, Henry. There's biting, dark humour. There's political intrigue. Everything's here. If you like historical epics, find this one and buy it!
this is a remarkable movie. burton and o'toole together -- is a can't miss deal from the start..... keep in mind that this is a movie made 35 years ago, and was adapted from the stageplay. the staging and pace of the movie is slow, much like you'd see in on stage. but as all the relationships in the movie develop, there is so much to savor. one of my favorite scenes is where O'Toole confronts his barons (in an overly dramatic fashion) with his dilemma: he is being torn apart by his love of, and rejection from Becket. as the barons nod to each other and leave to destroy Becket, O'Toole looks up, suddenly having regained his composure..... and you see that he (the king) was really just putting on a good show of acting! O'Toole finds a very fine line between he (the actor) and the king's penchant for melodrama. Burton is totally convincing at the end of the film as a man who has truly given his life to God.
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