This is the story of King Henry II and his friend Thomas Becket. When we first meet them, they are thick as thieves drinking and finding new women every night. It isn’t long before we see that the partying is all Henry’s idea, and Becket tags along to keep him out of trouble. Lately, tensions have been rising between the King and the Church. Henry starts to worry that the Church is not loyal enough to him. When the position opens, he appoints his dear friend Thomas as Arch Bishop of Canterbury, thinking that he will lay low and be loyal to the Crown. But when a Lord kills a priest, Henry realizes too late that his friend has taken his new role seriously and cannot be loyal to both the Church and the King.
Becket (Richard Burton) is a very soft spoken and peaceful man who only drives the story by doing what is right. He’s such a goody-goody that he even gives away all his possessions to the poor before being appointed as Arch Bishop. Though both roles were nominated for Best Actor, it’s King Henry II (a much younger Peter O’Toole) who explodes with royal angst and propels the action forward.
O’Toole plays such a rousing Henry II; he’s a wily, hot headed brute who drinks too much and is always on the prowl for a new mistress. He clearly voices his hatred for his mother, wife and four sons, repeatedly. The best human trait about him is his never ending love for his friend, Becket. Even after the lines have been drawn, Henry is rooting for him to find a way out of trouble. Above all, he just wishes Becket would be his friend again, like old times.
Now, there are broken links between both historical accuracy and the 1959 play that were made to mold the story to the screen. I would suggest only looking them up if you’re interested in the history, otherwise they could cause some unnecessary dislike to such a well done film. It really is a good story that, though set in the middle ages, can ring true to this day.
Watch Becket if you’re interested in English history or want to see Peter O’Toole in his hay day.
“It’s funny! It’s too funny! Becket is the only intelligent man in my kingdom, and he’s against me!”