Becket (film): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Original film poster by Sanford Kossin
Directed by Peter Glenville
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Edward Anhalt
Jean Anouilh (play)
Starring Richard Burton
Peter O'Toole
John Gielgud
Donald Wolfit
Martita Hunt
Pamela Brown
Siân Phillips
Paolo Stoppa
Music by Laurence Rosenthal
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing by Anne V. Coates
Studio Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) 11 March 1964 (1964-03-11)
Running time 148 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget US $3 million

Becket is a 1964 film adaptation of the play Becket or the Honour of God by Jean Anouilh made by Hal Wallis Productions and released by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by Peter Glenville and produced by Hal B. Wallis with Joseph H. Hazen as executive producer. The screenplay was written by Edward Anhalt based on Anouilh's play. The music score was by Laurence Rosenthal, the cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth and the editing by Anne V. Coates.

The film stars Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II with John Gielgud as King Louis VII, Donald Wolfit as Gilbert Foliot, Paolo Stoppa as Pope Alexander III, Martita Hunt as Empress Matilda, Pamela Brown as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Siân Phillips, Felix Aylmer, Gino Cervi, David Weston, and Wilfrid Lawson.

Newly restored prints of Becket were re-released in 30 theaters in the U.S. in early 2007, following an extensive restoration from the film's YCM separation protection masters.[1] The film was released on DVD by MPI Home Video in May, 2007[2] and on Blu-ray Disc in Nov 2008. The new film prints carry a Dolby Digital soundtrack.


Background and production

The original French play on which the film is based was given its first performance in Paris in 1959. It opened on Broadway with Laurence Olivier as Becket and Anthony Quinn as King Henry II in a production directed by Peter Glenville, who later went on to direct the film version. The play opened in London in a production by Peter Hall with Eric Porter and Christopher Plummer. O'Toole was originally signed to play Henry II in the production, but broke the contract before rehearsals began to take the lead in David Lean's film of Lawrence of Arabia.

The film was made at Shepperton Studios, England and on location at Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle and Bamburgh Beach in Northumberland.

Peter O'Toole went on to play Henry II once more in The Lion in Winter (1968) with Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Siân Phillips, who plays Gwendolen, was Peter O'Toole's wife at the time of filming.

The film enjoyed great popularity and acclaim.


The story line monitors the transformation of Thomas Becket, portrayed, following the play, as a Saxon protege and facilitator to the carousing King Henry, into a man who continually invokes the "honor of God". Henry appoints Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury in order to have a close confidant in this position that he could completely control. Instead, Becket becomes a major thorn in his side in a jurisdictional dispute. Much of the plot concerns Henry, the "perennial adolescent" as described by the Bishop of London, who finds his duties as king and his stale arranged marriage to be oppressive. Early in the film, we see him escaping them through drunken forays onto the hunting grounds and local brothels. He is increasingly dependent on Becket, a Saxon commoner, who arranges these debaucheries when he is not busy running Henry's court. This foments great resentment on the part of Henry's Norman noblemen, who distrust and envy this Saxon upstart, as well as the queen and queen mother, who see Becket as an unnatural and unseemly influence upon the royal personage.

Henry finds himself in continuous conflict with the elderly Archbishop of Canterbury, who opposes the taxation of Church property in order to support Henry's military campaigns in France ("Bishop, I must hire the Swiss Guards to fight for me - and no one has ever paid them off with good wishes and prayer!"). During one of his campaigns in coastal France, he receives word that the old bishop has "gone to God's bosom". In a burst of inspiration, Henry exercises his prerogative to pick the next Archbishop and informs an astonished Becket that he is the royal choice.

Shortly thereafter, Becket sides with the Church, throwing Henry into a fury. One of the main bones of contention is Thomas' excommunication of Lord Gilbert, one of Henry's most loyal stalwarts, for seizing and ordering the killing of a priest who had been accused of sexual indiscretions with a young girl, before the priest can even be handed over for ecclesiastical trial. Gilbert then refuses to acknowledge his transgressions and seek absolution.

The King has a dramatic secret meeting with the Bishop of London in his cathedral ("I have the Archbishop on my stomach, a big hard lump"). He lays out his plan to remove the troublesome cleric through scandal and innuendo which the position-conscious Bishop of London quickly agrees to (thus furthering Henry's already deep contempt for church higher ups). These attempts fall flat when Becket, in full ecclesiastic garb, confronts his accusers outside the rectory and routs them causing Henry to laugh and bitterly note the irony of it all, "Becket is the only intelligent man in my entire kingdom...and he is against me!" Becket escapes to France where he encounters the conniving King Louis (John Gielgud). King Louis sees in Becket a means by which he can further his favorite pastime, tormenting the arrogant English. Becket gets to Rome, where he begs the Holy Pontiff to allow him to renounce his position and retire to a monastery as an ordinary priest. The Vatican is a hotbed of intrigue and political jockeying. The Pope reminds Becket that he has an obligation as a matter of principle to return to England and take a stand against civil interference in Church matters. Becket yields to this decision and asks Louis to arrange a meeting with Henry on the beaches at Normandy. Henry asks Becket whether or not he loved him and Becket replied that he loved Henry to the best of his ability. A shaky truce is declared and Becket is allowed to return to England.

The remainder of the film shows Henry rapidly sinking into drunken fixation over Becket and his perceived betrayal. The barons worsen his mood by pointing out that Becket has become a folk hero among the vanquished Saxons who are ever restive and resentful of their Norman conquerors. There are comical fights between Henry and his frumpy consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine, his dimwitted son/heir apparent, and his cold-blooded mother, who repeatedly reminds her son that his father would have quickly had someone like Becket done away with for the sake of the realm. During one of his drunken rages he shouts out, "Can no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" His faithful barons hear this and proceed quickly to Canterbury, where they put Thomas and his Saxon deputy, Brother John, to the sword. A badly shaken Henry then undergoes a penance by whipping at the hands of Saxon monks.

The film concludes with Henry, fresh from his whipping, publicly proclaiming Thomas Becket a saint and that the ones who had killed him will be justly punished.



Becket is depicted as Henry's loyal "drinking buddy", who aids him in illicit romantic entanglements, but who becomes saintly and responsible after his appointment as Archbishop. Passing mention is made in the film of the Constitutions of Clarendon (simply as the "Sixteen Articles"); the struggle between Becket and Henry is boiled down to their conflict over Lord Gilbert's murder of the captive priest. In no way is Becket depicted as a man who desired special legal privileges (defrocking rather than prison) for his clergy, as some believe that he was. Many plot points also revolve around Becket being a Saxon who has risen to a perceived Norman social standing, when in fact the historical Thomas Becket was a Norman. Actually, Anouilh was made aware of this historical error before his play was produced (he had based the play on a 19th-century account that described Becket as a Saxon), but decided against correcting it because the story was better the way he had written it, and because "history might eventually rediscover that Becket was a Saxon, after all."

Although the story takes place in the late 12th century, the armored helmets that King Henry's children play in are right out of the 15th century, as one might see in films about Joan of Arc or Henry the Fourth and Fifth.[citation needed]

Henry's mother, Emperess Mathilda, died in 1167, 3 years before the treaty of Freteval who allowed Thomas Becket to return in England.

Roses were brought from Damas in France by Thibault IV of Champaigne who led the crusade in 1239, sixty years after the death of Louis VII of France, giving birth to the most ancient french roses "the roses of Provins".

Awards and nominations

The film won an Academy Award and received eleven other nominations:[3]



External links



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address