Thursday, March 13, 2008
"Becket" (Peter Glenville, 1964) Why bother about religion when there's so much wenching to do? Wenching and bellowing at the TOP of your lungs while you're at it! King Henry II (Peter O'Toole, who would play the role again in "The Lion In Winter") is having trouble with the Archbishop of Canterbury, so when the elderly Archbishop dies he appoints as his replacement his old friend and advisor Thomas Becket (Richard Burton). Becket, being a Saxon--actually, he was Norman like Henry, the original playwright Jean Anoulih got it wrong--causes grief to Henry's Court. And then Becket finds religion as archbishop and gets all self-righteous on Henry, taking the Church's side on conflicts with the King. That does not sit well with the "perennially adolescent" first Plantagenet King, and in a drunken rage shouts, "Can no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" and he has barons who are perfectly willing to take on the job. Becket, in death, becomes a folk-hero to the Saxons, and Henry, in remorse, has himself flogged and petitions for Becket's sainthood. Am I giving anything away? The story's only 800 years old! O'Toole and Burton have a fine time playing "Can you top this?" with each other in scene after scene, Burton controlled and stentorian and O'Toole indulgent and capering. Add John Gielgud as the King of France and you have some of the best British actors doing top-notch work in one film. Yes, it's talky, but with this cast, it sure is entertaining conversation.