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Customer Review

on 15 February 2011
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.
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