Movie Review – Becket (1964)

Director: Peter Glenville

Stars: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, Donald Wolfit, David Weston

Becket is a historical drama about the relationship between Henry II (O’Toole) and Thomas Becket (Burton). The relationship between these two close friends is set against the backdrop of the changing landscape of England, where the King and Church are wrestling for influence.

Burton and O’Toole charge this film with emotional intensity and it’s tragic to see how their friendship descends into animosity. Burton was more stoic and reserved while O’Toole was animated and each expressed emotion in different ways. I thought O’Toole was hilarious to watch as the over-dramatic, mischievous and tortured King. I especially loved the scenes where we had to deal with his wife, mother and son. Some of the lines that he barked out were so cruel but so funny. Becket like I say is more reserved, and when he expresses emotion it’s with a subtle shift in stance or a brief flicker over the face and the different between the two men really works and emphasises the split in friendship.

I liked how it entwined the politics of the era into the friendship, the historical flavour comes through strongly in the costumes, sets and dialogue. The film also has an episodic feel as it moves through time. This can be a bit jarring at first because there’s never a clear indication of how much time has passed and some characters appear out of nowhere. Henry’s family, for example, suddenly they’re there and they seem to have been around for years but there hasn’t been any mention of them.

This means that at times it can seem like you’re watching different films almost, but it’s really the two lead performances that make this film a captivating watch. Both men are tortured in their own ways and although they retain a kinship their destinies take them in opposing directions, making for an enthralling depiction of a broken friendship.

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