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Becket & A Man for All Seasons

by on February 18, 2012


Becket tells of Henry II, king of England in the 12th century, and his good friend and adviser Thomas Becket. Henry, played by Peter O’Toole to madcap perfection, is at times petulant, insecure and vainglorious, while Becket (Richard Burton) is a quiet and serious man searching for a purpose and an identity. When Henry appoints Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket finds his calling, and holds church law to be higher than English law, and even above his friendship with Henry. The king is slightly perturbed by this, hilarity ensues.

Made in 1964, this film is dated in so many regards, from the costumes to the sets to the cinematography. However, the performance of O’Toole makes up for this in spades. How he managed to lose the Oscar to Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady is beyond me. That year also had Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, as well as Richard Burton for Becket, both are better choices than Harrison. O’Toole eclipses them all. His interpretation of Henry shows an intensely flawed character, one who both loves and hates Becket and can’t reconcile the fact that his love wasn’t returned in kind. Many reviewers have talked about it being, at least to some level a homosexual relationship, but O’Toole himself denied this vehemently. Love needn’t be classified as such, especially when nothing of the sort is shown on-screen.

This film is part of a course I’m taking at university about historical fiction, which I’ve been liking quite a bit. After this (and the next movie) finished I went online to look up the historical accuracy and more about the time in which it’s set, and I learned that the Henry from this film was the father of King Richard the Lionheart and Prince John from the Robin Hood tales, which was very interesting. Also, Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitane was one of the richest and most powerful women in the world at the time, and was a very commanding presence at court, all of which is conveniently left out of the film. All in all, very dated film which I can’t really recommend other than for O’Toole’s performance.

A Man for All Seasons

A story centered around Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), who was a good friend and adviser to King Henry VIII in the 16th century. Henry wants a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, as she hasn’t borne him any healthy sons. He has taken up with a mistress, Anne Boleyn, and wants the Pope to grant him the divorce so he can marry her. The pope wasn’t too forthcoming, so he founds the Church of England and declares himself leader of said church. This doesn’t sit too well with his friend More, and Henry throws him in prison until he changes his tune. Hilarity ensues.

Another film about a half-mad English king called Henry, and his good friend Thomas, and the rift that grows between them because of a moral disagreement. This one made in 1966 doesn’t share much with the previous film, except that it’s also very dated. At times a painstakingly slow affair showcasing the fortitude and saintly qualities of More often taken from real writings he did, and at others it seems more like an outtake from Monty Python. The acting, while mostly not bad, is much more subdued and subtle, which makes the time drag by interminably slowly.

The central argument in this film, that the King can’t do what he wants, just because he’s the King, and that Church laws should be above Man’s is a bit antiquated. In both films, the two Thomases base their defences on love of god, and willingness to be martyred in his name. Now, I don’t discriminate between religions. Whether it’s a muslim, a christian or a pastafarian, anyone who is willing to die for his/her faith gives me the creeps. Also, people willing to die for their country. I never really understood the idea of loyalty born of one’s geographical position at birth. Anyways, very slow and dated movie that has some nice dialogue, but not much else.


From → Movies

  1. chandlerswainreviews permalink

    I can’t understand the criticism of the films, especially the second on the basis of their being dated. With the exception of their not being edited to obscure every line of dialogue, not being saturated with gimmicky directorial trickery and lacking annoying CGI, what is possibly “dated” about telling interesting stories in a direct and intelligent manner? On this basis, I hesitate to recommend the fine “The Lion in Winter”, a follow-up film with O’Toole again as Henry II only this time at war with wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.

  2. Samir permalink

    Thanks for the reviews. I’m curious about ‘Becket’ and will probably watch it soon. I love old school British actors like O’ Toole, Richard Harris, Patrick Stewart etc Their acting alone carries the weight of the story through, not to mention their soothing intonations during dialogue.

  3. Oliver permalink

    @chandlerswainreviews: Don’t get me wrong, I found both films to be “good”, and I enjoyed Becket quite a bit. However, the main conflict of AMfAS is in essence a theological debate, which I have a hard time relating with. While Becket centered around the relationship between the lead characters, and the emotions in play, AMfAS never really showed a relationship between Henry and More. It seemed more about More’s religious convictions, and while this is interesting historically, it didn’t provide much enjoyment for me as a viewer.

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