Starring: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Donald Wolfit, David Weston, John Gielgud, Martita Hunt, Pamela Brown
Director: Peter Glenville
Summary: England’s King Henry II appoints his best friend Archbishop of Canterbury then turns on him
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Burton), Actor (O’Toole), Supporting Actor (Gielgud), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Color Art Direction, Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Film Editing
-O’Toole is wonderful as Henry II-he’s stagy and and his performance is big, but he reins it in enough that he doesn’t come off as a big ham, just really entertaining. Burton is good as well in the less showy part of Thomas Becket-he’s still not going to emote much (or emote way too much, he’s like a rich-man’s William Shatner), but he still gets the warmth across he needs to in the first half and his character should be a stalwart in the second half; it’s just funny that he keeps getting very religious parts (this and The Robe) considering he was an Atheist.
-You really do get a good feel for the characters and their dilemma, that they had a genuine friendship-not the most conventional, but Henry didn’t have anyone else to confide in/willing to put up with him and and Becket was a guy who lacked self-respect but liked hanging out as a drinking buddy with Henry. They set it up decently enough, but it’s the performances that make you buy into their friendship, which if you didn’t would make the rest of the movie fall apart. It was an interesting choice to 100% play Henry as a spurned lover, even if they never outright say they had a physical relationship (as they couldn’t in a movie at the time). The movie is basically an examination of these two characters and one of them learning to become emotionally invested in something and the other feeling betrayed by the one person he actually ever liked, and as that it works really well.
-Considering the type of movie it is, the dialogue is really good. They stayed away from “Ye Old English” as much as possible, and the the movie is full of great lines that stuck out to me. Examples: “One must never drive one’s enemy to despair; it makes him strong. Gentleness is better politics, it saps virility. A good occupational force must never crush. It must corrupt”; “Have you any idea how much trouble it took to make you a noble?” “I think so; I recall you pointed a finger and said ‘Thomas Becket, you are a noble.’ The queen and your mother became very agitated.”
-The section of the story where Becket travels seeking (and eventually getting) the Pope’s audience falls off compared to the rest of the movie, as this is a personal story between the two characters, and here only Becket is involved. In fact, anything just involving Becket is much weaker than Henry & Becket and just Henry, but this part stuck out in particular.
-Oddly enough, this is the first of four 1960s Best Picture nominees about Henry II or Henry VIII (Becket, A Man for All Seasons, A Lion in Winter and Anne of a Thousand Days).
-John Gielgud couldn’t have been on screen for more than 6 minutes, but got a nomination because he’s John Gielgud. I liked him enough, but he didn’t deserve it.
A great historical drama, due to the performances and the wonderful character dynamics involved.