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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Becket: forking Normans and a not so turbulent priest



    Misplaced Saxons, rubber swords ... they even got the cutlery wrong in this error-strewn drama about the sainted Archbishop of Canterbury and King Henry II



    * Alex von Tunzelmann



    Thomas Becket became chancellor to Henry II of England in 1155, and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. He fought bitterly with Henry over various legal issues. In 1170, he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.



    People

    Life at the court of King Henry is a circus of boozing and wenching, with Henry occasionally tearing himself away from the bedchamber to belch, shout at archbishops, complain about his sore bottom, and patronise Thomas Becket, whom he calls "my little Saxon". Henry and Becket go hunting, and stumble across a comely Saxon peasant girl. "She stinks a bit, but we could wash her," observes Henry. "I fancy her," says Becket. "That's very tiresome of you," replies Henry. "I fancy her myself." Grudgingly, he lets Becket take the girl, whereupon Becket, demonstrating his Saxon solidarity, quietly lets her go without molestation. Which would be fine, only Thomas Becket was a Norman, just like Henry II. Writer Jean Anouilh knew this, but he thought Norman-Saxon tensions made a good story. Indeed they do, but so do cowboys in space or monkeys v robots, either of which would be approximately as accurate here as making Thomas Becket a Saxon.



    Technology

    Becket mentions to Henry an exciting new invention � the fork: "It's for pronging meat and carrying it to the mouth." Henry's amazement is justified, for the fork did not actually arrive in England until over 400 years after his death. The only people using forks in the 12th century were the Byzantines and a few Italians, and they were teased mercilessly for it. In the middle ages, real men ate with spoons.



    Casting

    Richard Burton, as Becket, delivers a performance that is subtle and restrained to the point of lulling the viewer into a gentle snooze. By contrast, Peter O'Toole as Henry II seems to have escaped from a pantomime, and leaps around the screen throwing tantrums and howling. "I am the law!" he bellows, like a camp, medieval Judge Dredd. He is ridiculous, and brilliant. Moreover, the act is no less bizarre than historical descriptions of Henry, a colossal, passionate monster who would reportedly get so angry that he would froth at the mouth, drop to the ground and start chomping furiously at bits of straw. In the middle of all this, John Gielgud wafts in as Louis VII of France, is arch, and wafts out again.



    Family


    Henry walks in on his children playing. "Which one are you?" he asks the biggest, who replies, "Henry III." In fact, Henry III was Henry II's grandson. It's true that Henry II's home life with Eleanor of Aquitaine was dysfunctional: she led a rebellion against him, and he had her locked up. But one would think the real Eleanor could have zinged back a few snappier retorts than the wishy-washy one in this film does. "You have never given me anything except your carping mediocrity!" Henry screams at her. "I gave you my youth!" she cries, somewhat inaccurately, seeing as she married him at the grand old age of 30, which in the 12th century was virtually dead. "I gave you your children!" she adds. He explodes with rage: "I don't like my children!"



    Violence

    Fed up with his meddlesome priest, Henry expresses his frustration in front of four knights, who make their way to Canterbury Cathedral and do Becket to death in the middle of vespers. Edward Grim, one real-life witness, lived up to his name by describing at great length the precise appearance of bits of brain and blood all over the cathedral floor. The film's budget obviously didn't stretch to cutting Becket's head in half, and instead there are lots of unconvincing sideways shots of rubber swords being jabbed between arm and body. Very disappointing.



    Verdict

    Thanks to O'Toole's daft but thoroughly enjoyable performance, it's tempting to root for Henry II in this error-ridden account of Thomas Becket's career.

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  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK Moor Larkin's Avatar
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    It's taken the poor girl many years to get that out of her system...........



    I watched this one a few months ago, when it was on TV. I was intrigued by the servant girl who took the kings fancy at some point. She bore a strong resemblance to Hilary Dwyer, but apparently it wasn't her, it was Jennifer Hilary - a coincidence that seemed almost supernatural.........











    God Save The King

  4. #4
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    Just wondering why this film has been singled out for a kicking now.



    I didn't really think it was that good, but I can't think of any epic which retains complete historical accuracy so the article is fairly pointless except to praise O'Toole and criticise Burton. I thought Burton's performance was much more sensible than O'Toole's and saved the scenery from a second chewing.



    Moor, I saw Jennifer Hilary recently in an repeat of Tales of the Unexpected, aged very well and looking very dignified. Glad to see some else has picked her out.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    This is one of my favorite films.



    Richard Burton's thoughtful performance makes Becket's transformation into a serious Christian who takes his fath and its responsibility seriously - and infuriates the king who put him there - makes it worth seeing by itself, and he and Peter O'Toole are very well matched. How many opportunities are there to see two great actors working together in great roles?



    The production is magnificent. Ah - once again I will regret the passing of those historical dramas and epics! The British were the masters and the experts when it came to this type of film. Peter Glenville makes sure the film is absorbing and clear. The only problem for me is that, like A Man for All Seasons, it is over too quickly.



    Pamela Browne, Martita Hunt and Felix Aylmer are all effective, and John Geilgud lays it on a bit thick as Louis VII although he definitely makes an impact in the part.



    If you enjoy historical films (and how many are entirely accurate...?) Becket has to be at the top of the list.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    My "Becket" file is one of those few titles fron 1960s/70s that I may be able to turn up only a few items later in the week; except for this one piece of memorabilia from back in the day..




  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    My "Becket" file is one of those few titles fron 1960s/70s that I may be able to turn up only a few items later in the week; except for this one piece of memorabilia from back in the day..



    ...................






    Thanks Rick. You can always be counted on to have something related to these films.



    You have kept these items in very good condition; all of the ones I have seen date back forty years, more or less. Do you usually keep the posters framed behind glass?

  8. #8
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    Here are a few pictures of the original souvenir brochure which I bought at the Plaza, Lower Regent Street, on 29 March 1964:





    The first two pages with my tickets attached:





    Double page spread for Hal Wallis and Peter Glenville which deliberately copies a famous image of Sam Spiegel and David Lean. Glenville was an old stage croney of Burton's who really didn't know one end of a camera from the other:


  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    That looks like a beautifully made brochure.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: Australia IlllIIllllIIii's Avatar
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    This advertisement is from Films and Filming, I assume, from the time of the film's release�


  11. #11
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    This was the first time I saw Peter O'Toole in a film. I was fourteen and I loved it. I read everything I could lay my hands on about the Plantagenets. I still remember the date 1154, even though I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner last night. O'Toole was so often frenetic when he was young, but lovable. I have a great affection for this movie, though it's been many years since I've seen it. I'm curious whether it would play as well to me now.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: Scotland narabdela's Avatar
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    It's one of the few 'historical epics' from the period that I can still watch and enjoy.

    The fact that it was based on Jean Anouilh's multi award winning stage play helps. The acting can be a little ott at times, but the intelligent well-written dialogue is a joy.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    I have an original poster of this film in my collection. Not one of the poster award-winners such as designed by Puzo or Frazetti but it projects the maturity and academic stature of the production.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by IlllIIllllIIii View Post
    This advertisement is from Films and Filming, I assume, from the time of the film's release—

    Yes, the film's World Premiere was on Wednesday March 25th, 1964. The film was in 70mm (an optical blow-up from 35mm anamorphic Panavision. The stereophonic soundtrack was a 4-channel stereo mix, done at Shepperton Studios, spread to six for the 70mm prints).

  15. #15
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    British Press book of "BECKET" :





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