April 2, 2010

For The Love of Peter O'Toole: Becket

Becket (Peter Glenville, 1964)

Role: King Henry II

Oscar nomination?: Yes. 

I was definitely unprepared for the emotional response I'd have to Becket. Even after viewing the film twice during my O'Toole-a-Thon, I routinely long for another dose of Becket. This appeal for me stems from the onscreen friendship at the heart of the film, between King Henry (O'Toole) and Thomas Becket (Richard Burton). Although a historical drama set in the 12th century, the friendship between the two men is emotionally raw and realistic. Glenville's film is very beautiful but the heart of the film and, in my opinion, the enduring popularity of the film, is the chemistry between O'Toole and Burton. This is aided, of course, by Burton & O'Toole's rather notorious life-long friendship, their boozing and carousing mirrored in the characters of Henry and Becket.

Like Lawrence of ArabiaBecket starts at the end, after Becket's assassination. It then flashes back to the happiest times of Becket's and Henry's friendship. The opening scene:

In addition to the friendship and fall-out between Becket and the King, there are also scenes of Henry's

notoriously disfunctional family. Scenes like this are a nice precursor to O'Toole's next Oscar-nominated

performance, as Henry II in The Lion in Winter.

On the Netflix side, Becket has a lot of nice special features. It was re-released on DVD and briefly

in theaters in 2007. There's a moderated audio commentary with O'Toole that provides a lot of

insights into filmmaking and highlight's O'Toole's research into the real Henry II and the Plantagenets

and 12th century life.

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