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A bizarre love triangle - Henry II, Becket and God
blanche-28 December 2007
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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A meddlesome priest
kurt_messick31 January 2006
The tale of Thomas Becket has had many incarnations over time. T.S. Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral' is but the most recent acclaimed literary treatment; each revisitation seems to draw new elements forth from the story. Edward Anhalt won the Oscar for best screenplay (adapted from other material) for this film. This film shows Henry and Thomas Becket roughly equal in age (at variance from history, for in this time the age difference of 15 years is practically a generational difference). Becket is shown as being a guide to Henry, but less from a master/pupil standpoint as it is a clever diplomatic with a utilitarian and almost Machiavellian sense about him. Henry is presented as coarse and unrefined, uneducated and in need of assistance, but historically this is unlikely.

Becket is played admirably by Richard Burton; Henry II is portrayed by Peter O'Toole. Both were nominated for the best actor Oscar, but neither won. In addition to these nominations and the best screenplay award, the film was nominated for nine other Oscars, running the list from costumes, music, directing, best picture, and a best supporting actor nod for John Gielgud, whose cameo as the King of France is rather interestingly presented.

Indeed, the movie has a remarkable realistic feel to it, particularly for a film from the 1960s, when cinema was as likely to portray stylised and idealistic images of the past. The sets are in bare stone with a minimum of ornamentation, as would have been the case in Plantagenet times; likewise, the ceremony around the royal person is much less grand, and the church rather grand, which is both accurate and serves to highlight the underlying conflict of the story in the film.

Becket is portrayed as a man of ambiguous loyalties -- a man of principle who has yet to find principles worthy of loyalty. Finally, in the role of archbishop, he finds a calling from the honour of God (and in so doing is not unlikely many priests who see their path to ordination as the means of spiritual grace; indeed, many are disappointed that the faith does not come with the office). Whether Thomas Becket actually experienced a spiritual conversion that made him a strong champion of the church, or in fact saw the power of the church as a means to an end of dominating the country, we will perhaps never know.

In the film, Becket is often disparaged as being a Saxon; this is perhaps overstated, given his Norman lineage, which is never hinted at in the film. While he does not come from Norman nobility, he is far from being a simple Saxon. Burton's portrayal of Becket shows the change from worldly chancellor to spiritual archbishop in unsubtle terms. Even so, there is an ambiguity that plays out marvelously in both his performance, and the reactions of the other characters who constantly question his sincerity.

O'Toole's performance is not as polished as Burton's; when he plays an older, wiser Henry II in 'The Lion in Winter' four years later, the acting is much more dramatic and effective. It perhaps goes without saying that Pamela Brown does not make the same impression on the screen as Eleanor of Aquitaine as Katherine Hepburn does in the later film, but Eleanor is an incidental character in Becket in any case.

Music in this film is not a prominent feature -- various trumpet and brass flourishes announce events or major scene changes in parts; a lot of chant (long before Gregorian chant achieved popular status) accompanies church scenes -- indeed, I credit this film for giving me my first real taste of Gregorian chant. The scene with Sian Phillips as Becket's love Gwendolyen is accompanied by period string instruments -- again, Phillips is a remarkable actress who is under-utilised in this performance.

Done in a flash-back manner, there is a resolution in the film -- Becket is dead, made a saint, honour is satisfied as the King does penance, and the people are happy. We know what is going to happen, but then, anyone with knowledge of history would likely know the story already. In fact, Henry's reign was rarely without challenge, but he was always powerful, and much more effective after Becket's death than before. Reigning for nearly twenty years after Becket's death, he left a very powerful Western European coalition of lands that soon fell apart, and embroiled England and France in war for centuries later. The tensions between church and state carry forward to this day; while the specifics of the challenges faces Becket and Henry II are very different from issues today, the principle of the relationship between church and state is far from definitively resolved.

Also, the side-line issue of class warfare and racial prejudice (teased out with subtle nuance between the Normans and Saxons, who, ironically, look exactly the same on the screen) are addressed in an interesting, pre-civil rights sort of manner. This issue is never resolved in the film, as indeed it wasn't in the 1960s, either.

This is an intriguing film, with great acting and great production values, and an interesting story that, even if not completely historically accurate, does not alter the history so much that it becomes a parody of the subject.
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Towering performances by 2 actors at the zenith of their powers.
edward-speiran13 June 2004
My comments here tend to be Misremembrances of things past. I know I saw "Becket" decades ago while I must have been suffering from a periodic bout of reviling Richard Burton. Having recently seen "Cleopatra" again, I will forgive myself. Still, there are movies that I've enjoyed - "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and "The Night of the Iguana", to name 2 - so I thought I'd give "Becket" another try.

Historical movies are among my favorites, although the IMDB parameter of not spoiling restricts me from discussing plot. But this is a movie that made me click on here to see who directed it...since directing Burton and O'Toole must have been like being a meterologist tracking a tornado and a hurricane. Their synergy is astounding...but whereas O'Toole launches himself on occassion into a thespian stratosphere it is Burton's performance that is incandescent. There are scenes..."inner monologues" - queries to God, where the ribald Burton is transformed into a man illuminated by a spiritual puzzle - he cannot believe that he is becoming who he is becoming - and it is Burton's challenge to share that bewilderment with us.

Well, I'm comforted that I can now stretch the glory days of historical film-making at least to "Becket." Any film in which John Gielgud, Martita Hunt, Felix Aylmer and Pamela Brown are "supporting" - how do I put it, "supporting" performances such as these are most other actors' triumphs. The costumes and sets are sumptous. Finis.
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Lingua Supremis
mig28lx16 October 2000
Ah, words. To paraphrase Henry Higgins, they are the pillars of society. Language is the means by which emotions are expressed, wars and love affairs are started and ended, and friendships are struck -- and melted down. "Becket" is a movie in love with words, their eloquence and, in some cases, majesty. It's a movie about friendship and loyalty, God and country, and the dynamics that occur when one tries to mix them together. I cannot think of movie so in love with words in recent memory; the only one that comes close (perhaps even superseding it) is "A Man for All Seasons." This is the proverbial film to sink your mental teeth into. It is cerebral, challenging, controversial, and tragic. If you've ever had a friend grow more and more distant no matter how hard you tried to keep things right -- this is for you.

And that is all I have to say about that...
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A terrific, stunning film, both visually and emotionally
NoArrow13 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
`Becket' is about how Archbishop Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) stood up to King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) and was, eventually, killed for it. This is not interesting because Becket is the Archbishop and Henry II is the king, but because they were great friends and shared a deep love for one another.

This film could not have been made now, forty years later. Reason being: there's no action. That's not a complaint, mind you, my point is that when audiences these days go to a movie set in the middle ages, they expect swashbuckling. This is a sword and sandal epic without the swords, brave enough to be an emotional epic rather than an adventurous one.

The movie is still a visual feast, though. It's beautiful to look at, wonderful to take in. All the colors, landscapes, skies, castles, costumes, filmed with the vibrant, life-capturing cameras of the 60s that have been unequaled since. I usually don't care for the scenery in movies, but this one is…beautiful.

The movie starts with Henry II visiting the grave of Becket, ready to be punished for something we have yet to know about (but something that's still easy to guess). We then flash back to when Becket was still alive, mischievously playing with a young village woman with Henry II before escaping on horseback. This scene is key in showing what little morals Henry II has, and how little Becket cares about it. Henry II and Becket are good friends, Henry II talks to Becket about how much he despises all of the properness and superficiality of royal life and Becket listens, nods and passes wisdom.

But there is something Henry II doesn't know about Thomas Becket: he's an honest man. If he's supposed to do something, he will, without submitting to corruptness. This is because he does not want to risk losing any self-respect or dignity. That's why when Henry II announces him Archbishop he begs for him not to. Henry II is doing this so he can control the church, but Becket will not listen to Henry II when he is carrying a title that says he listens to God before anyone.

Then something unexpected happens to Becket: he realizes he loves serving his Lord. He tells the Lord he's never been happier, after giving all of his wealthy possessions to the poor. When Henry II first hears about this he is infuriated. He wants Becket to listen to his king, not his Lord. He doesn't see the big picture, that being Becket cares about his soul more than his country. He can see it, but he chooses not to, because he is selfish.

When an English lord kills a fugitive monk before trial, Becket demands he be punished. Henry II can't do this because he'll lose favor with the people. Becket excommunicates the lord from the church. This angers Henry II so much that hate sets in, and he starts plotting to kill Becket, who becomes a fugitive of England. Henry II hates Becket because he thinks he's stubborn, but what Henry II doesn't realize is that Becket is standing up for what he believes in.

Throughout this whole story both characters are played perfectly by Burton and O'Toole, neither actors ever losing their focus on their performance. O'Toole's performance is very physical, he screams, cries, stomps around whatever room he's in like a storm. Burton's is more inward; all the acting is entirely in his face, eyes, mouth and voice, and he conveys Becket's emotions effortlessly with these four tools. Both men were fantastic actors, two I respect very much.

The rest of the cast is fair and good, but not many get as much attention as Burton and O'Toole. Of the ones that do are John Gielgud in a delightfully funny, Oscar nominated role as King Louis VII of France and Martita Hunt and Pamela Brown as Henry II's nagging wife and mother. You might call the supporting cast small, but it doesn't need to be large because of Burton and O'Toole's towering performances.

The film, beautifully shot and emotionally acted, was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, winning only for its screenplay, but how neither Burton nor O'Toole won I'll never know. A film fantastic within every inch of its being, 8.5/10.
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They Don't Come Any Better
alexkolokotronis21 February 2008
Becket is one of my favorite movies. It is possibly the most underrated movie of all time and I consider it one of the top five greatest movies. It has everything for everyone and is done at such a high level too. The center point of this movie is definitely its writing.

The writing by Edward Anhalt is the best I have ever seen and that is no exaggeration. Line after line I was just in awe. Every line had so much meaning and just made more and more anxious on what would happen next. It was funny, witty, intelligent and serious all at the same time. I have never seen such an amazing blend of so many different themes and working so greatly. This is usually how movies falter not succeed but this movie was like five movies mixed into one yet very enjoyable mostly in part of the writing. Many people like to memorize lines from the Godfather series, but I believe this movie contains so much more than even the Godfather. The Godfather is more like one of those quote pamphlets with 10-15 pages. Becket is not just like but really seems to be a quote book with a couple of 100 pages filled with quotes. Still this movie was not done to impress with just good lines it has a real story to it. The story was so amazingly strung together along with its amazing quotes this script seems to be absolutely perfect.

The acting was at its best. Peter O'Toole gave a performance only second to his performance in Lawrence of Arabia. He displayed everything that a king has especially that of Henry II. He displayed the immaturity, the constant swaying of opinion according to how he feels and at the same the stubbornness that a king has not accepting what anyone else has to say, except for his close friend Thomas Becket, at least for a while. He portrayed such a complex and just down right strange character. Then there is Richard Burton who was nothing short of greatness either giving one of his best performances as well. He of course plays Thomas Becket who reluctantly stands up to his friend and his king, Henry II in the name of equality and for basic civil and human rights. His performance was the most inspiring performance I have seen from Richard Burton. In the movie he has surprised at his own transformation but yet proud of what he was doing because it is the right thing to do. Yet there is still more. John Gieglud gave a great supporting performance as King Louis the VII of France. He just added to the laughs and provided a much needed extra character and voice to add something a little different and gave some diversity as well. I believe he was very much overlooked for such a great performance, this not too shocking though when you are playing next to Burton and O'toole. As they say in sports he was the X-factor.

The directing and editing was also add its height. The directing by Peter Glenville was just spectacular when it came to art direction and costumes to the camera shots of the castles and ceremonies all the way back around to the cinematography. I have read that nobody knows how good a movie was edited except for the editor and director. In this case you can clearly see that this movie was edited together perfectly, with its great music and sound effects to stringing together all the scenes together to near perfection.

It is so clear that this movie was worked on very carefully and precisely and was not made just to make money but to provide a message and a purpose. It is just a sham that this movie lost best picture to My Fair Lady in a year that had so many great movies including Zorba the Greek, Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe, The Pawnbroker to even Mary Poppins. Yet Becket seems to have everything that undoubtedly what those great movies have in every technical aspect but most importantly in the multiple messages and themes that it has making it one of the best to have ever been conceived.
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King Henry II: "Becket is the only intelligent man in my kingdom, and he's against me!"
Galina_movie_fan9 July 2007
Made in 1964 as the screen adaptation of the play by Jean Anouilh "Beckett or the Honor of God" written in 1959, the film takes place in the 12th Century's England but never for a second it feels outdated or old-fashioned. The subjects it explores, the passion and artistry it presents in every scene, its sunning beauty, the use of medieval music, and especially, the incredible craft and chemistry between two great acting legends in their finest performances make the film an outstanding cinematic event and one of the best history/biopics ever made. Magnificent in every sense, "Becket" examines the complex relationship between Henry II (Peter O'Toole), by the words of Sir Winston Churchill, one of the ablest and most remarkable of the English kings, and his best friend from the days if his youth, his trusted confident, his mentor, whom he loved, respected, and appointed his Chancellor, Thomas Beckett (Richard Burton). As Chancellor, Becket was involved in the important acts as the distribution of royal charters, writs and letters. Becket carried out many tasks for Henry II including leading the English army into battle. After Archbishop of Canterbury dies, Henry offers the post to Beckett counting on his unbending loyalty and support in religious questions. To his utmost surprise and anger, Beckett openly defies Henry on the matter of clergymen found guilty of serious crimes. Henry decided that they should be handed over to his courts. Thomas Becket insisted that the church should retain control of punishing its own clergy. The king believed that Becket betrayed him and was determined to obtain revenge which he finally expressed in front of his four knights, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"

It's been several days since I saw the film but I still can't (and I don't think I ever will) decide whose performance was more powerful and remarkable. Both, O'Toole and Burton are simply outstanding and carry the film effortlessly. They both were nominated by the Academy for best leading roles. I will always remember the last Burton's words just before his Becket dies hacked with the knights' swords, "Poor Henry"...In the last moment of his life, he feels sorry for his murderer, his former friend whom he loved but would not betray his principles and beliefs even for him. Another scene is also imprinted in my memory - Henry invites his family for the reunion where he is expected to name his successor. Surrounded by his closest relatives, his mother, his estranged wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, his three sons, whom he never loved nor they loved him. All they want - the throne of England. All he wants - his friend Beckett next to him, but he lost him to God... I'd like to add that the scene of reunion is the source of another film featuring Peter O'Toole as Henry II. In 1968, O'Toole reprised the role of Henry in "The Lion in Winter" where his partner was Katherine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. O'Toole was nominated for the Oscar for both films and lost both times.

For the first time since 1964, "Beckett" is available on DVD with many bonus features that include Peter O'Toole's commentary, two archival interviews with Richard Burton from 1967 and 1977 where he does not speak about "Beckett" but we learned a lot about Richard Burton, the actor and the man, and interviews with editor Anne V. Coats and composer Laurence Rosenthal. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, "Beckett" won for Best Adapted Screenplay. It should have won much more. It deserves every one of its nominations even now, after all these years.
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Magnificent acting and complexity of plot
Caledonia Twin #17 September 2000
After having read the other comments, I hardly feel able to improve upon what has already been so eloquently expressed. For anyone who enjoys high-caliber acting, intriguing dialogue, and complex relationships in a film, this is a must-see. I agree with a comment that Burton was shafted the oscar for his performance of Becket. It does seem at times that the Academy veers from rewarding darker, complex, mercurial characters in favor of anaesthitized heroic caricatures. It is one of the greatest tragedies of film-making that the talented are often unrewarded and forgotten. Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole are perfect foils in this film. The souring of their friendship makes a deeply moving story. Historical inaccuracies I can easily forgive; this is a dramatic film, not a documentary, and a director and screenwriter must condense lives into a believable and appealing plot. It is far better to make alterations than to have nothing such as this produced... (Having exposed myself thus, I must own that I am also a history scholar and usually a stickler regarding more inferior productions.) All in all, I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys superior acting and thought-provoking drama.
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An actors duel
johno-2127 February 2006
If this movie had won all that Academy Awards that it was deservedly nominated for it would be a well-remembered film today but it seems like a forgotten classic. I haven't seen it shown on TV in years and seldom hear people talk about or reference this film. It won a best screenplay Oscar but was basically shut out. Best Picture, Best Director, two Lead Actor, one Supporting Actor, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Score and Sound nominations that all came up short. Two great Actors Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole during the peak or prime of their careers with the great John Gielgud as a bonus. Wow! What an acting duel between Burton and O'Toole. A great script and great direction. This film has a lot going for it and deserved and should have won most of it's nominations but any other two actors in the lead and I may not have given it a 10 but this is a 10 and I highly recommend it.
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A fine piece of filmmaking!
andy-22711 May 1999
What p****s me off about this film is that it, like "Metropolis", is a forgotten one. Why? Why is it that everything has to be razzle-dazzle eye candy, instead of a subtle, beautiful, fine piece of craftsmanship and storytelling. "Becket" was tough to watch, because of all the grain and clicks on the neglected print. But past all of the distortion of a neglected print, I found a very remarkable and exquisite achievement that ranks among some of the best films ever made! The craftsmanship is just the beginning! It gets better! Peter O'Toole, who ironically, played Henry II years later in "A Lion in Winter", does a superb job. He's so angry, volatile, and above all, whiny. When I saw the Disney version on "Robin Hood", with Peter Ustinov playing the voice of the whiny Prince John, I felt it was directly inspired by Peter O'Toole's Henry II! He was so good at being a great whiner. And Richard Burton, as Thomas Becket, looks so reserved, strong, and reverent, as a friend of Henry II who's faith and belief in God and serving the people, brings a rift in their friendship. I also felt bad that not only was this a crappy print, but also that the beautiful photography seemed so small on the TV. This is the kind of film that needs to be seen on the big screen in order to fully appreciate it. I hope that this gets some more respect and popularity, because it needs it and it has deserved it for years!
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2 movie giants in their prime!
jesseny-128 June 2005
This movie is a classic. It is so wonderful, my praises can't do it justice. The acting is second to none. The dialogue is incredible. The story magnificent. It's truly a masterpiece. I have seen this movie at the very least 25 times. It is one of those movies you can watch again and again. This movie has so many memorable scenes. Only Casablanca can be compared in that way. And it stands up over time, some great old flicks get outdated, this one has not. It's a rare movie. You can read the other posts about the storyline. If this movie was released today, it would win every academy award. DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE. You will never see 2 actors this great starring together ever again. One of the all time best films.
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Burton and O'Toole In The Grand Manner
gftbiloxi5 July 2007
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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"I Am Learning To Be Alone"
bkoganbing2 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Becket as originally presented on Broadway during the 1960-1961 season ran for 193 performances and got several Tony Awards, including Best Drama for that year. Its stars were Laurence Olivier as Thomas Becket and Anthony Quinn as King Henry II of England.

Though it would really have been interesting to see Olivier and Quinn in those parts on the screen, no one I know has ever complained about Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole in those respective roles. They play off each other so well it's a pity they never did another joint project.

The showier part is clearly Henry II who between his drinking and wenching was one of the best monarchs England ever had. His kingdom included about 35% of what is now France so that is a considerable bit of real estate. His one trusted confidante in matters of state and more personal endeavors is Thomas Becket. They are really closer than brothers.

But there's quite a bit more to Richard Burton's character Becket than the king remotely suspects. O'Toole is having trouble with the Church and its head in England, Archbishop of Canterbury Felix Aylmer. Seems as though they don't want to pay any taxes and the king needs money for a war with France. Burton as the king's chancellor acquits himself well in a battle of intellects with the church officials including Aylmer.

Then Aylmer conveniently dies and O'Toole has the brilliant idea of making Becket a priest one day and an archbishop the next. It turns out to be a serious blunder because Becket fights for the church's prerogatives every step of the way.

It's a question of perception for both men. O'Toole takes Becket's new opposition to him as a personal betrayal and Burton sees a higher duty to the Deity than his friendship with his king. When one of the local lords kills a priest in his custody the kingdom and the church split over the issue of whether clergy should be tried as anyone else if they commit a crime or are they judged by their own courts.

In those days the Roman Catholic Church was at the high point of its power and influence. Some forty years later, Henry's son King John got into a nasty fight with the papacy and lost and consecrated the whole kingdom over to them. The church was indeed law unto itself and insisted on that prerogative.

Becket was nominated for a whole flock of Oscars including Best Actor Oscar nominations for both Burton and O'Toole and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for John Gielgud as King Louis VII of France. The only winner was Edward Anhalt for adapting Jean Anouilh's play from another medium. In fact that was quite the achievement in that several scenes were added, most notably Richard Burton's scene with the Pope in Rome where he goes to plead his case.

Paola Stoppa is a very sly and wily Pope Alexander III, it's one of my favorite supporting roles. His part is not in the original play. Another one is Donald Wolfit who plays Bishop Folliott of London who was the betting favorite to succeed Aylmer as Archbishop of Canterbury. Wolfit is always finding that what's best for Wolfit is what's best for the church. He moves from being Aylmer's champion to a supporter of the king when he sees the opportunity for royal favor.

Becket is one fine drama that holds up well today about a man who found a higher calling as he saw it and a king who was wounded to the heart at what he saw as betrayal. And ironically they're talking about the same events from different perspectives.
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Detailed studio about the tumultuous relationship between Henry II Plantagenet and Archbishop of Canterbury , Becket
ma-cortes20 March 2009
¨In the year 1066 William of Conqueror crossed from France with his Norman army and conquered the Saxons of Britain at the battle of Hastings , Henry II his great grandson continued to rule over the oppressed Saxons peasants . Backed by the swords of his Barons and by the power of his imported Norman clergy¨ . This historic picture is based on real events , a studio detail about Becket (1117-1170) who was chancellor of Henry II Plantagenet but then he opposed to sign the rules of Clarendon (1164) that established superiority of king over clergy , he was then banished France and when he returned succeeded the tragedy . Henry II (1133-1189) dominated nobles and clergy , he married Eleanor of Aquitaine that caused the confrontation with Louis VII (an eye-catching playing by the veteran John Gielgud) of France . Becket (flawless acting by Richard Burton) is named Archbishop of Canterbury and his religious mission is strictly taken with opposition to Henry II (a first-rate performance by Peter O'Toole and similar king role to 'Lion in Winter') of Plantagenet who governed England from 1154 to 1189 ; this leads to notorious and sparkling phrase by the king: 'Who will rid me of this turbulent archbishop' .

This is a splendid rendition of Jean Anouilh's play , as translated by Lucienne Hill , produced upon the New York stage by Merrick and good detailed artistic direction made at Shepperton studios -England- . It deals about the stormy friendship between Becket , appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury , and king Henry II . Although the film depicts Becket as a Saxon , he was actually a Norman like King Henry II . The closeness between King Henry and Becket is depicted as being a purely platonic one ; homosexuality was still illegal in the UK when the film was made in 1963, and any suggestion of that would have fallen foul of the censor . However it is still implied that Henry is in love with Becket . Magnificent studded-secondary-star cast , as Donald Wolfit as bishop , Paolo Stoppa as Pope Alexander III , Gino Cervi as the flamboyant Cardinal , Pamela Brown as Queen Eleanor , Martita Hunt as Queen Mother , Percy Herbert and Neal McGinnis as the Barons ; plus , Sean Phillips married to Peter O'Toole . Atmospheric , appropriate cinematography by the great Geoffrey Unsworth . Evocative musical score with religious chores by Laurence Rosenthal and usual musical conductor by Muir Mathieson . The picture obtained Academy Award , 1964 , to adapted screenplay and Golden Globes to dramatic actor for Peter O'Toole and the best film drama . The flick was stunningly directed by Peter Grenville who reflects correctly an exciting slice of history . Rating : Better than average . This is a superior and powerful historic drama to be liked by historical cinema buffs .
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Powerful film!
grahamsj314 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
POSSIBLE SPOILERS! This is a superbly executed film! It depicts the true story of Thomas a Becket, wonderfully portrayed by Richard Burton, and his king (Henry II), wonderfully portrayed by Peter O'Toole. They are best friends, drinking and debauching together. The king has some headaches with the Church of England but then the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the church, dies. The king urges Becket to become Archbishop of Canterbury in order to have a friend in that role. Becket warns the king that if he takes the job, he will look after the church first, then the king. O'Toole prevails and Burton's Becket becomes the Archbishop. Soon, they are at odds with each other over church business and soon become bitter enemies. Most students of history know that the king ultimately had Becket murdered. The film is historically fairly accurate and beautifully acted! This one is worth a watch!
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Top Notch Historical Drama
hokeybutt29 July 2004
BECKET (4 outta 5 stars)

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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Exploration of a man looking for himself
Hancock_the_Superb29 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In 12th Century England, footloose and fancy free King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) and his best friend, Lord Chancellor Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) are an inseparable pair of friends, engaging in hunting, whoring and generally enjoying their position. A showdown between Church and State and conflict in France places a pallor over their relationship, however, and after the perfidious Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer) is disposed of, Henry appoints his old friend to the position, thinking he can easily control him. Unfortunately, however, Becket has found a cause worthy of standing up for - leading to an inevitable showdown between himself and the King.

"Becket" is an interesting exploration of individualism, and works well as a counterpart to "A Man for All Seasons". Both plays show powerful English noblemen, close friends with their King, ultimately sacrificed finding a cause greater than friendship or power - a cause worth defending. Sir Thomas More finds solace in himself and his Catholic faith, even as Henry VIII and his minions scheme to bring about his downfall. But unlike More, Becket has no ingrained faith; indeed, the film makes a point of the fact that he is LOOKING for something honorable to hang his hat on. The sanctity of the position of Archbishop offers something, giving him religious faith and an office to hold on to - it gives him something important to live up to, besides himself.

Like "Man's" Henry VIII, Henry II is a young, foolish man who is less interested in the matters of statecraft and religion than personal gratification. Early scenes, where he meets with his advisers and bishops, show him to be ignorant on matters of the state, thinking that because he is king, he should get his way regardless the justification or reason because, well, he is King. He spends much of the film's early going drinking and whoring, and thinks of the challenge with the Archbishop as a minor problem that can be easily dealt with. Unfortunately, Henry makes the mistake of appointing Becket - a strong man who is desiring to find himself - to a position where his strong personality will clash with Henry's weak one. Henry is an inadequate father, let alone ruler, and his clash with his old friend results from his hopeless naiveté and inability to see right from wrong.

As gorgeous as the direction, cinematography, and period costumes/sets are, the film is absolutely driven by two things: a highly literate script and a fabulous cast. If not for these two, this would be just another good-looking but ultimately empty costume epic of the kind churned out by Hollywood in the '50s and '60s.

"Becket" deserves to be placed in a category with "A Man for All Seasons", "Spartacus", and the David Lean films as the "thinking man's epic" - a movie that, despite much pageantry and scope, is driven by a thoughtful, literate screenplay. While historically inaccurate to the extreme, the play does a good job in its depiction of our two feuding protagonists; the man who is searching for self and a greater cause, versus a man concerned with petty self-indulgence. The script is witty and does a good job of drawing up these characters in believable detail.

The acting is borderline flawless. Richard Burton is at his stoic best as Becket, the man who starts out as a philanderer, much like his King, but realizes there is something more to life than just being a playboy; Burton owns the role of Becket, much like Paul Scofield owns Sir Thomas More, making his character's journey of discovery completely believable and portraying Becket as a man of dignity cut down by lesser men. Peter O'Toole should have won an Oscar for this film; his portrayal of the exasperatingly self-absorbed Henry II, not really a worthy rival for Becket at all, is absolutely flawless, O'Toole at his best. It's not "Lawrence of Arabia" but it's something else entirely; a man incapable of self-examination because he is the King and must get his way for that reason. The supporting cast features the great stage actor Donald Wolfit (General Murray in "Lawrence of Arabia") in arguably his best film role as the perfidious Bishop of London, David Weston as Becket's young Saxon apprentice, and O'Toole's wife Sian Phillips in a small but important part as Becket's short-lived wife. Also effective are Martita Hunt and Pamela Brown, amusing as Henry's acid-tongued mother and wife, respectively, with John Gielgud and Paolo Stoppa contributing graceful cameos more memorable than their screen time would suggest.

"Becket" is an examination of a man who is searching for a purpose in life, and when he finds it, it costs him his life. History - and art - show us time and again that people find themselves only at the risk of losing everything. Perhaps if Becket had remained content with being the King's running mate or right-hand man, rather than subscribing to a higher calling, things would have turned out better for him; but then, if that had been the case, Thomas Becket would not have been Thomas Becket.

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Collaboration and Honor
claudio_carvalho6 March 2010
In 1066, William the Conqueror crossed from France with his Norman Army and conquered the Saxons of Britain. His grandson King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) recalls his friendship with the minion Saxon Thomas Becket (Richard Burton), a man without honor that prioritizes the pleasure life and is his adviser and companion in promiscuity and bender. Henry II has a troubled relationship with the Catholic Church and when the Archbishop of Canterbury dies, the king decides to appoint Becket to the position to dominate the Church. However, Becket finds his honor in the faith for God and takes seriously his position, defending the interests of the Church. Henry II develops an ambiguous love and hate feeling for his former friend and in hatred he decides the fate of Becket.

"Becket" is a great biographical movie that won an Oscar (Best Writing), had eleven nominations to the Oscar among several awards and nominations in other film festivals. Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton have top- notch performances and deserve their nominations. I believe people that have studied this historical period of England would appreciate it more since they certainly know how faithful the biographies of King Henry II and Thomas Becket are. This DVD has been recently released in Brazil by Cine Art Distributor and has many Extras including and interview with Richard Burton. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Becket"
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Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton's Tour-De-Force Acts Make 'Becket' Glorious!
sandnair8711 February 2016
'Becket' examines the rather intricate relationship between the headstrong 11th-century King Henry II of England (O'Toole) and his lifelong friend, Thomas Becket (Burton). On the surface, the two appear to be really close chums who spend their time wenching and drinking - king and servant, but friends foremost. However, there are layers below this, as Henry clearly revels in his lust for living and more than a little affection for his servant Becket. Unable to consummate his love for his fellow man, he drowns his desires in women. Becket is much more of an enigma, and his motivations are somewhat elusive. He clearly relishes the company of his king, but is not entirely comfortable with his attentions. He is a Saxon, one of the conquered, requiring him to straddle the gulf between honor and collaboration, serving his Norman King in several capacities – as a valet, a bodyguard and a military adviser. He wears his compromises poorly, and longs for a simpler, honorable way of living.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury dies, with view to subjugate the mighty Church, Henry picks Becket to be the successor, despite not even being an ordained priest, which proves to be his undoing. As soon as the miter is upon his head and the silver cross in his hand, Becket becomes a thorn in the king's side, opposing him on a point of principle, straining their friendship and putting Becket's life in peril. Henry loves Becket, as he adores no other human being in his life, and it hurts him to the core that Becket chooses honor over their friendship. 'Becket' soon moves from power play to power struggle, a struggle that Henry is not ready to lose.

On the surface, Becket appears to be a humdrum king versus a dignified politician war. But, here, the primary conflict is between the throne of England in its debauchery, and the Church, with its compromised morality. The characters, even while wearing robes of power, stink to highest heaven in every sense. While protected by their power, they freely admit the moral sewer they occupy, and serve their gluttonous appetites with aplomb. Absolute power allows the veneer of quality to drip away, and we can be most thankful for this lack of varnish. Just as the characters' loyalties to one another are called into question, so, too are ours: 'Becket' enters a moral gray area from which it never fully emerges.

Becket crackles with whip-smart dialogue and is anchored by a sharp screenplay that finds resonance even today. Peter Glenville directs with a flamboyant hand, but mostly he lets his two leads have free rein, and the results are glorious. Richard Burton is always at his best when reserved, and this is no exception. Peter O'Toole rips into the script as if he invented the art of acting, and belts out some of the best lines. He has a slithery charm that suddenly erupts into volcanic expulsions of blind fury. His chemistry with Burton is ripe with homo-erotic undercurrents, which O'Toole mines with relish in a hysterical performance, full of cunning, eloquence and mad outbursts.

Years later, Becket remains just as incandescent and relevant!
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Entertaining but contrived story.
PWNYCNY11 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Wait a minute! Becket is a Saxon? Isn't that stretching literary license a bit far? It is hard to believe that modern Britain can trace its roots in part to a tribe of Vikings who first forced their way into France and then conquered England, which indicated that if any group deserves dramatic treatment, it's the Normans. They went all over Europe and Mideast, and they were force to be reckoned with. So to make Becket a Saxon seems such a come down, especially when it's not true, and even a drama should not take such license. This movie would have worked well as a drama if Becket had been portrayed as a Norman, which would have made the bond between he and Henry more plausible. That the Norman king would have a Saxon as his closest confidante seems a bit too much to accept, and in fact, it did not happen.

Nevertheless, this is an entertaining and well-acted movie. Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton are excellent in the principal roles. However, although despite its trappings as a credible historical account of a political conflict with sexual overtones, the movie is pure fiction with a story line that is hokey and contrived. The conflict that is the central theme of the plot, loyalty versus integrity, is unconvincing. A nobleman murders a priest and Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, demands justice and when none is forthcoming, excommunicates the offender. What's the problem? Becket was doing his job, but the king, who is also Becket's patron and best friend and expects Becket to act the role of a stooge, since it is the king who had Becket installed as Archbishop, objects. Of course, there was probably a lot more going on between Becket and Henry, which the movie omits. The audience is asked to accept the premise that the king is so insecure that he cannot tolerate even the slightest action that can be construed, or misconstrued, as a challenge to his power. Now, if the Becket had tried to raise an army and start a civil war, then the king wanting to protect himself and his office would be understandable, but no such challenge happens, nor ever did happen. Becket confines his actions to that of an ecclesiastic nature which was well within the scope of his authority. That the king, who is a profligate, refuses to go along with Becket is unsurprising, and that politics ruins what was otherwise a wonderful friendship is regrettable, but what else is new? If Becket was as obnoxious as Henry, then the movie may have produced some fireworks. Instead, the movie presents Becket as being so passive that he cannot possibly pose a threat to anyone, and as proof of his abject vulnerability even flees England for his life. Such an action does not suggest a man who is a threat nor does it make for high drama, or any level of drama. The movie insinuates that perhaps Henry and Becket had a homosexual relationship, but even this is treated in a half-baked manner which further dampens the movie's dramatic impact. Probably the strongest scene is the one in which Henry's wife, Eleanor, who is portrayed as a whining, self-indulgent shrill, gives Henry a public tongue lashing, which he deserved, being obsessed with a man who, to the rest of the court, is a nobody. Richard Burton gives a strong and dignified portrayal of Becket, in stark contrast to Peter O'Toole's hysterical and over-the-top performance which makes the king come off as a buffoon. His fixation on Becket seems hollow and without substance, more so since Becket himself is an emotional neuter who is most comfortable when he is alone, and with the likes of Henry and the king's pouting wife around, who could blame him?
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One of My All-Time Favorites
gemstone-16 October 2002
I first saw this movie in the theater when I was six years old. Besides falling madly in love with Richard Burton, I fell in love with the movie, and it remains one of my absolute favorites. I can't praise highly enough the (Oscar-nominated) performances by Burton and O'Toole, two of the greatest actors of all time, (and beautiful men with beautiful voices), great writing, cinematography, etc. About the only fault I can find is some historical inaccuracy. (In fact, I remember being so ticked off when Rex Harrison won for "My Fair Lady," I refused to watch the Academy Awards show again until 1969) If you haven't seen it, you should.
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O'Toole gets passed over for Oscar a second time, why?
Keaton-721 February 2000
Warning: Spoilers
*spoiler** so be wary*** you've had your warning****

This film may have Burton playing the title role of Becket but, it is O'Toole who shines like a supernova in one of the most challenging and complex roles in any media. I will sound harsh when I say Rex Harrison robbed O'Toole just as harshly as Cliff Robertson robbed O'Toole out of an Oscar. Harrison and Robertson played pleasant, good, nice guy characters and stole O'Toole's trophy for the two times he played a character whose morals were questionable and whose wit was as sharp as his tongue. I hate when "The Academy" awards nice simple characters over complex and often unlikable characters.(ps congradulations to Anthony Hopkins and Michael Douglas to rise above the Academy's sweetheart roles and win). Why did Al Pacino never win for playing Michael Corleone, why did Cuba Gooding win over Edward Norton, why didn't Richard Burton win against Lee Marvin or Paul Scofield? The answer: they were too deep, too complex, and especially too dark for the academy to award them and decided the characters they liked the best were going to win. Let's remember this is a popularity contest not an actual representation of what the best really is, look at Citizen Kane. Kane according to most film critics, fans, and film courses sits at number one of most lists, while How Green Was My Valley sometimes sits outside of most lists (except for AFI, which is a desent list). Does anyone remember who won the Oscar over Bogart's Rick in Casablanca,off the top of their head? Not easy is it.

Well back to Becket, now that I got the injustice off my chest let's get to the heart of the matter. Becket executes the transition from play to movie without missing a beat. In fact, it may be a better picture than a play. The film opens with King Henry II doing penance for the death of the Arch Bishop Of Canterbury Thomas Becket. Then the film shifts to a recap of the events that led to Becket's death. The opening half hour shows the deep friendship and love that the king has for Thomas, O'Toole walks that fine line of adding a level of bisexuality to his character and still having the king be a virile leader. (the bisexuality hinting hurt O'Toole's chance to walk away with Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia, so maybe it hurt him here too.) Burton's stoic and often placid character complements O'Toole's bombastic and passionate character to perfection. Then the story hits the key pivot: Henry fearing that he would lose power to the church makes his newly appointed Chancelor of England, Thomas Becket, and appoints him to become the Arch Bishop of Canterbury and as Arch Bishop Becket is torn between Church and King. As it turns out he decides to abide by a higher power and the friendship is strained into conflict. Henry begins to hate Becket with the same intensity that he loved him and Becket still cares and respects the king but he can't do his accept the kings wishes. Finally the conflict reaches a zenith where Becket seeks sanctuary with France's King and then with the Pope and finally meets with the king to try to reach a peace. Becket and Henry meet on horse back and speak to each other trying to recapture their friendship and try to find a happy medium, which is not possible. Throughout this scene the King mentions the cold often which represents death. After they depart knowing that their friendship although exists and the king's love for Becket exists it only exists like a sunken ship that is at the bottom of the sea that can't be salvaged even though everyone knows the ship is there. Then at a private dinner the king has with his most loyal guards, O'Toole delivers the finest few moments of acting I've seen: drunken and filled with emotions of hate, love, fear, power, insecurity, anger, and depression he speaks to his men about their loyalty and their courseness all really representing his respect for Becket he exclaims,"Won't someone rid me of this meddlesome priest," and his men leave to kill Becket. Before the scene is over Henry instantly becomes remorseful for sending the messengers of death to Thomas and the king mentions that he says, "Forgive me Thomas," (my quote may not be what is said in the film but does get the meaning across) Thomas is then killed and his finals words are, "Henry what have you done," in a sad and forgiving manner. Then the film flashes back to the king serving his penance and then giving a public apology.

This film strikes perfectly what movies should do and is amongst the superior, although nearly forgotten, movies and it is a shame that a film with complex characters and crisp direction, writing, and execution does not win best picture and inferior films and performances do. This is why all the Titanic's and My Fair Lady's of this world don't impress me because deep and intricate films don't usually win over the popular and less intellectually stimulating films. Oh well I'll rant and rave on another good movie that didn't get it's dues.
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In 1964 Peter O´Toole was the only actor in my opinion that could represent exactly the character of Jean Anouilh´s King Henry II.
Jose Deym13 November 2001
In 1963 I went to the theater in Buenos Aires to see the magnificent play of Jean Anouilh "Becket or the honor of God".

I loved it very much. In fact, I saw it thrice within a couple of months. But nevertheless I felt disappointed with the outcome of the portrait of King Henry II, performed by Lautaro Murua, the best actor in Argentina - actually he was born in Chile - in the last fifty years.

It was not because the performance was bad. It was excellent. But Murua only could transmit the coarse side of Henry´s personality, not his noble side. He did not have the physique du role.

I must say that I liked his performance very much more than Duilio Marzio´s characterization of Thomas Becket. Marzio is not a bad actor, but representing Becket is a very difficult task, as we should see later.

After my third view of the play, I guessed it might come soon as a movie. Who should be King Henry was my first wonder. Immediately I choose for myself a young actor who played the main role in David Lean´s "Lawrence of Arabia" and just have acted in a minor film, namely "Lord Jim".

I was delighted when before a year later the film was released precisely with Peter O´Toole in the role of the King. The version was excellent, though again I had to complain about the characterization of Tomas Becket, this time by Richard Burton. I think it was the only Burton´s poor performance throughout his remarkable career.

The fact is that Anouilh´s Thomas Becket is an intellectual youngster full of mannerisms, intending to be a cynical play boy and a smart chancellor at the same time and later he has to become an energic and virtuous archbishop. The script leads dangerously to fall either into an overacting and almost effeminate characterization (Marzio) or to inexpressive acting (Burton) in order to avoid it.

I must say that my choice for Thomas Becket was the American actor George Peppard, but I was not very sure about it, mainly because Peppard was not British. Nevertheless I don´t think that his characterization would have been very much better than the one Richard Burton finally performed. Even today I wonder if there is an actor capable of showing the exact personality of this particular Thomas Becket. Perhaps Daniel Day-Lewis, as he is so versatile, but I´m not quite sure.

Instead, Peter O´Toole´s characterization was really outstanding. His performance was so good as in "Lawrence" and later on in "Good bye Mr. Chips" and again as King Henry II in "Lion in winter". And he was noble and coarse at the same time. Wonderful choice!

Another comment I want to add is that - as far as I know - "Becket" has not been seen again in Argentina since 1964, nor in TV nor in videos. I can hardly imagine that there does not exist a video of this excellent and valuable film.
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O'Toole and Burton do their thing, but they do it much better in other movies
antagonist11717 June 2013
This slow-paced film explores the love-hate relationship between a young, hedonistic King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) and his brooding, philosophical friend Thomas Becket (Richard Burton). The casting seems perfect, but O'Toole is often caught chewing the scenery and there is surprisingly little chemistry between he and Burton. Both of these actors are rightly associated with challenging and multifaceted roles, usually of flawed, frustrated antiheroes who embrace but undermine traditional notions of masculinity. That is precisely what the script of "Becket" aims for, but here the dialogue is overwrought and belabored, and the characterizations are one-dimensional. O'Toole would reprise the character of Henry II to much greater effect in "The Lion in Winter" (1968), which features a more forceful script and better performances.
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Here's my royal foot on your royal buttocks!
Spikeopath14 June 2008
King Henry II of England has grown tired of the interference of the Church. When the Archbishop of Canterbury dies, he senses an opportunity to gain the upper hand. Much to the church, and Thomas Becket's surprise, he appoints his great friend Thomas to the highly important position. What Henry hadn't bargained for was that Becket takes the role very serious indeed and serves God to the full, so where once there was great friendship between the two men, there is now an uneasy feud.

Based on the Jean Anouilh play, Becket is as near a technically perfect film as you could wish to see, with the acting on show coming right out of the top draw. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, it won only one for Best Adapted Screenplay {Edward Analt}, but on another given year it could quite easily have cleaned up. Peter O'Toole & Richard Burton play Henry II & Thomas Becket respectively, both men feeding of each others commitment to the project to bring peerless results, witness one scene in particular as they exchange views on horseback on a British beach, wonderful stuff. The costumes, the cinematography from Geoffrey Unsworth {now booming from the screen with the DVD restoration work}, the sound, and the brilliant sets all come together to make a top of the range Historical drama.

But all these would not stand out if the story wasn't any good, but Becket's triumph is in the story itself, a tale about the separation of great friends, and the separation of the state from the church, it really is an intriguing and beguiling way to spend your evening. One glaring error aside {Becket was not a Saxon, but a Norman}, the makers have followed history rather well, and it leaves us with what i believe to be one of the best films of its type, 10/10.
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