I have been waiting for this release for years, and I just can't wait to watch "Becket" again, in all its widescreen splendor. This film simply has it all: Great human drama, complex characters interpreted by superb actors; impressive cinematography, evocative music, and an exciting plot. I think "Becket" is indeed one of the best films ever made, notwithstanding that its screenplay sticks very closely to Jean Anouilh's original stage play. I highly recommend this film to everyone who prefers films about human beings rather than nonsensical special effects.
As the years roll by it's all too easy to forget just how good an actor Richard Burton actually was. In a sense his off-screen presence overshadows the work he did in-front of the camera and that's a shame - at his best, and 'Becket' shows him at the height of his powers, Richard Burton was a superb actor.
The film focuses on that well-known medieval spat between Church and state. Frustrated at every turn by the Church's refusal to help fund his wars against France and by its insistance that criminal offences committed by the clergy should be tried by the church, and not by the state, King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) takes the opportunity presented by the timely death of the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint in his place his good friend Thomas Becket. Sadly, for the King, his youthful companion, so recently a willing participant in the traditional medieval kingly pursuits of drinking, hunting, eating to excess and ardently pursuing the attractive female portion of the peasantry, suddenly begins to take his duties to the Church far too seriously.
The historical Becket, played by the charismatic and charming Burton, does rather well out of this. Historically Becket is often regarded as a rather pompous and self-important individual, more interested in his own reputation than in the health of the Church, but here he comes across as a noble, troubled and intelligent man. The King, admirably played by Peter O'Toole, is charming and dashing, but quick to temper and prone to violent outbursts. The scenes between the two great actors are electric: two forces of nature clashing and sparking against each other, both perfectly capable of seeing the other's point of view and yet neither willing to budge an inch. Splendid support is provided by John Gielgud as the charming and perfidious King of France - he's only on screen for a few minutes, but he steals every scene in which he appears. Also worth a mention are the hilarious scenes in which Henry castigates his long suffering wife and (in his own words) dismally uninspiring children. Peter O'Toole is best known for the dramatic and weighty qualities he brought to the roles he played, but he could do humour and in these brief scenes he displays a real gift for comic timing.
I wish they still made costume dramas like this. It's powerful stuff, beautifully played by the two leads who really do spark off each other, and it is truly gorgeous to look at. The script, based on a stage play, is excellent, being beautifully paced and allowing the viewer to build up a real sense of knowing just what it is that makes the two protagonists tick. It's dramatic stuff and well worth a look. Medieval history has never been so interesting!
Version is 142min restoration anamorphic w/screen R2 (not Blu Ray)
This masterpiece of filmed theatre had long been out of the catalogue but the restoration to absolute pristine condition, even better than the original cinema prints, apparently, makes this well worth waiting for. This is not a mere two hander although Burton (Thomas Becket) and O'Toole (Henry II of England) inevitably dominate because of the story. Director Peter Glenville did a wonderful job keeping the raft of scene stealers, including Gielgud and Woolfit as well as the principals, in check, eliciting fine, at times career best performances. I'm not sure Burton was ever better, and O'Toole's is a fascinating, if neurotic interpretation of the same character he was to play as an older, more mature man in 'Lion in Winter.' With Geoffrey Unsworth's magnificent cinematography, and Anne V Coates' perceptive editing, we have a visual feast. Mention should also be made of Laurence Rosenthal's wonderful score, some of it skilfully adapted Gregorian Chant as well as his original music, and too rarely available on LP or CD.
Criticism has been made of the quite serious historical inaccuracies in this film but this is the responsibility of playwright Jean Anouilh, whose research was apparently non-existent. He set the Henry/Becket conflict against a non-existent barrier of racial (Saxon/Norman) difference, for Becket was of Norman extraction. However,it doesn't seriously undermine the principal themes of loyalty, love and honour with which the play and film, are concerned.
Refreshingly, the extras on this disc are extremely informative, as they are quite lengthy interviews with editor Anne Coates and composer Laurence Rosenthal, made especially for the DVD release, and are invaluable to the serious film student. Anne Coates mistakenly refers to location shooting in Northampton instead of Northumberland. The great castles of Alnwick and Bamburgh, no strangers to film work, served as exteriors, with the beach between Bamburgh and the fishing village of Seahouses doing duty as the French coast. As a child in 1963, I had the privilege of watching some of the filming there, and getting a glimpse of the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, who of course was with Burton at the time.
This was one of the first of a series of filmed plays and history set, and largely shot in the UK or Ireland during the 1960s and early 70s, which included 'A Man for all Seasons', 'Cromwell' and 'Mary, Queen of Scots'. Historical accuracy was often sacrificed to dramatic effect, but virtually every one was finely mounted cinema. 'Becket' is among the very finest.
Great recreation of Medieval England of the time with tremendous dialogue and lots of drama. Becket is played by the great giant of film at the time Richard Burton and Henry II by Peter O Toole. both brilliant for the parts. Eleanor of Aquitaine played by Pamela Brown (who played Jane Shore in the 1955 film version of Richard III (Special Edition) [DVD] comes across as shrewish, none of the smoldering sexuality associated with that queen, although by this time Eleanor was indeed aging.
Traces the conflict between Henry II and Bucket, how Henry's adoration of Beckett turned to hatred because Becket as he mentions in one part of the film loves god more than the king. Some of the speeches by Henry point to a certain unrequited homosexual infatuation for Becket though Henry (and Beckett in his youth) also are seen here as having a great lust and passion for beautiful women.
Spoiled though by the great error of describing Beckett as a Saxon when he was in reality of Norman nobility. I am totally unsure of why the scriptwriters included this in what a previous reviewer correctly referred to as a 'historic howler' From the great cultural zenith of the modern West of the 1960s.
I've loved "The Lion in Winter" since I first saw it on TV back in 1978. It's one of my all-time favourite movies, and so I've wanted to see "Becket" for many, many years. I finally saw it tonight on TV, and I was very disappointed with it.
I think it's my own fault, since I was thinking I was in for something similar to Lion, but obviously they are two very different beasts. Becket features terrific acting from everyone involved, but something is missing. I felt like I was watching a passing parade and not actually getting involved in it. I couldn't 'root' for anyone, as Henry is just a spoilt playboy and Thomas is an aloof, distant character that can't be related too - his principles are so vague that I couldn't care about them.
The pity was, I found Simon Schama's telling of this story in his brilliant "History of Britain" far more engaging and entertaining - and in half the time.
I think perhaps (for me), this film has dated a lot; in 1964 it would have been sensational. Fifty years on, and it's still a good watch (hence my 3 stars), but definitely not a great film.
One of the 2 most shocking murders of the Plantagent era. A rant by King Henry 2nd about his former chancellor Thomas Beckett ended with the words "Will no one rid me of this man?" and led to the Archbishop of Canterbury being murdered in the Cathedral. Excellent film both lead actors Peter O'Toole as Henry 2nd and Richard Burton as Becket are outstanding.A great production.
The other murder(s). The Princes in the Tower in 1483. We will never know the culprit or who ordered the killings.
The charecters were played very well by Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. Although Henry II (I think) did a lot of good by introducing one secular law for everyone, he was shown very well as a man of his time. That is given to getting his own way and having fits of violent temper if he did not. Whereas Becket took his duty of loyalty to his employer very seriously. Although I did not agree with everything Becket did, I found myself sympathising more with him. A very powerful drama.
Burton and O'Toole - two lions of British cinema. A pity they are both gone, but they live on in films like this. I love Becket when at prayer and Peter O'Toole was born to play HenryII. Selfish, cruel, every inch a monarch and Burton is Becket from the king's favour to martyrdom. Like A Lion in Winter I watch this film again and again. Unlike The Lion, however, the music we could do without. Delivery and packaging as always not to be faulted either.