My Photo
Location: California, United States

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


- Becket and Henry start as friends

I picked up this old movie from the library today .....

Becket is a 1964 film adaptation of the play Becket or the Honour of God by Jean Anouilh ..... The film stars Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II with John Gielgud as King Louis VII, Donald Wolfit as Gilbert Foliot, Paolo Stoppa as Pope Alexander III, Martita Hunt as Empress Matilda, Pamela Brown as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine .....

One reason I wanted to see the film is that I really like this time of British history. Some background ..... Henry I of England (1068-1135) died (supposedly from eating too many lampreys :) without leaving a legal male heir. Soon there was civil war between his daughter Matilda and his nephew, Stephen of Blois (check out the Brother Cadfael mysteries), which resolved with Stephen being King of England for life with Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet (Henry II) reigning after Stephen.

Henry II (1133-1189), husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine and dad to Richard ( the Lionheart) and (the evil Prince) John , appointed Thomas Becket as his Chancellor in 1155 and they became friends. In 1162, Henry made Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury, believing he would take his side in church/state controversies like the Constitutions of Clarendon, which were attempts to restrict church power in England. But Becket refused to sign the documents and fled to France to escape the King's anger. When the king cooled off, Becket returned to Canterbury and then had some of his opponents excommunicated. This finally led to Henry making that famous query - "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four of the king's knights rode to Canterbury and killed Becket. Just a few years later in 1173 he was canonized.

- Becket, now the ABC, gives Henry back his Chancellor's ring

As the NYT review mentions, the movie focused mostly on the relationship between the king and Becket, along with some references to the Norman/Saxon and the church/state conflicts. The film had its good points - it was reminiscent of The Lion in Winter with its witty dialogue, and the sets were pretty nice. But I found it depressing - I know I was supposed to despise the king in his power-hungry selfishness, and to admire Becket in his courage and commitment, but I saw instead two powers, one civil and one religious, both bent on perpetuating and protecting their institutions at all costs, with no regard really for the citizens and the faithful under their dominion.

- the soldiers come to kill Becket


Post a Comment

<< Home