Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Spent an enjoyable couple of hours with my wife and a glass of wine watching Becket (Paramount 1964) a few days ago. The film follows the relationship between Henry II played by Peter O’Toole and Thomas Becket played by Richard Burton. Based on the play Becket or the Honour of God by Jean Anouilh and with a strong supporting cast, I thought the two central performances were excellent. I had seen the film some thirty years ago; though the only scene I remembered was Henry and Becket jumping out of a young woman’s bedroom window! Well I was a teenager at the time. I also studied T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral while at university and so have had an ongoing interest in the story.

The turning point in the film is Henry’s decision to make Becket, his close friend and confidant, Archbishop of Canterbury in order to solve the problem of the Church’s challenge to his authority. Becket pleads with Henry not to make him Archbishop but the King refuses to listen. From that moment Becket’s allegiance turns from King to God and there is a very powerful scene in which Becket, acknowledging his unworthiness, prays for God’s wisdom and equipping for the task he has been given. Becket devotes his life to the work of the church even though it brings him into direct conflict with the King and the relationship deteriorates to the point where Henry cries out ‘Can no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ Four knights take up the challenge, head of to Canterbury and murder Becket. The film ends as it begins with Henry before Becket’s tomb doing penance for the murder of his friend and declaring him a saint.

Having seen the film I’ve found myself reflecting on several themes including: the nature of friendship, the impact of vocation on a person’s life and loyalties and just how good an actor Richard Burton was without even trying.

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