A member of the House of Lords dies, leaving his estate to his son. Unfortunately, his son thinks he is Jesus Christ. The other, somewhat more respectable, members of their family plot to steal the estate from him. Murder and mayhem ensue.
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
The play, and this movie, are riddled with factual inaccuracies. Jean Anouilh had based his original play on an 1890 history that presumed Becket was a Saxon. Anouilh only learned the truth after he'd completed the play. He decided to leave it as is, because he said it made for a better story with Becket as a Saxon. See more »
Henry's court is depicted as being in England. In fact, Henry II's primary residence and capital was Chinon, nearly 186 miles (300 kilometers) southwest of Paris. England was only one land in Henry's empire, which included most of modern day France. 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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Like most dramas by Jean Anouih (1910-1987), BECKET essentially sets two larger-than-life characters against each other in a relationship fueled by widening ideological rifts. In this instance, the rift is between the holy and the secular. King Henry II of England, who--frustrated by the frequent interference of the Roman Catholic Church in his rule--manages to have friend Thomas Becket appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury. He expects Becket to act on his behalf--and is shocked when Becket undergoes a spiritual transformation and takes his office seriously.
The 1959 play was tremendous successful throughout Europe, in England, and in the United States. In 1964 it reached the screen with Richard Burton as Becket, Peter O'Toole as Henry II, such notables as John Gielgud as Louis VII of France. The film was extremely well-received and received numerous critical accolades, particularly for Burton and O'Toole. It was not, however, widely available to the home market until this 2007 MPI DVD release.
In a technical sense, BECKET looks better than ever; the transfer is very crisp and the picture likely looks better here than it did on the 1964 big screen. At the same time, however, it is very evident that this is a film that really is best seen on the big screen, where the larger than life characters and their ideological battles have the advantage of a scope to equal their nature. It also has a slightly stagey quality, most often in the script, which doesn't quite manage to shed the theatrical trappings of the original.
Even so, there's a great deal to admire, and the leading actors are most certainly chief among them. Burton and O'Toole wench, brawl, argue, and explode with invective with complete conviction; it would be hard, if not impossible, to say which gives the better performance here. Gielgud is particularly memorable in his brief appearance as Louis VII--and Sian Philips, Pamela Brown, and Martita Hunt make the most of their relatively small roles as well.
The DVD has several notable bonuses. I personally found the interviews with Richard Burton, archival footage from 1967 and 1977, slightly over rated--but the "featurettes" on editor Anne V. Coats and composer Laurence Rosenthal are excellent, and the DVD commentary by O'Toole is consistently fascinating. I personally find the film as a whole a bit dry--Coats, tellingly, makes the comment that if the producers had put just a bit more money into BECKET it would have an undeniable masterpiece--but fans of the film will find this particular package an extremely welcome one.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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