My Favorite Movies – Becket
“It’s funny! It’s too funny! Becket is the only intelligent man in my kingdom, and he’s against me! ” – Peter O’Toole as King Henry II
My Favorite Movies:
My British Literature teacher in high school was probably a little crazy.
It was an act, I know, but he was so convincing that none of us would have doubted it if, one day, we walked into class to find he had gone off the deep and admitted himself for help. He was a spirited teacher with seemingly unlimited energy. Through two semesters of Brit Lit we did more than just read books. We learned history. We wrote stories. And we watched movies. A lot of movies.
One of those movies was Becket, an old 60’s film about the King of England and his friend, the Archbishop.
Sounds like a snoozer, right? Wrong. Anything but, actually. We never read a book about Becket or King Henry II, so I’m not sure why we watched the film – but I fell in love with it.
Here’s the story. King Henry and his friend, Thomas Becket (the Chancellor of England) want the church on the crown’s side. When the sitting Archbishop dies, Henry’s idea is to name Becket the new Archbishop. Becket hesitatingly accepts and, while wearing both the seal of England and the ring of the church, he turns completely away from Henry and completely toward doing God’s work in the church, defeating the purpose of his appointment. Henry is upset, both friends feel slighted and drama ensues.
Of all the stories that British history has brought us, this is one of my favorites. Always root for the underdog, I say. Fight the establishment. Do what’s right! That’s Thomas Becket in a nutshell – taking the gift of Archbishop and pulling a complete full circle on the crown’s ruling, leaving the king to lick his wounds and plan revenge.
The underlying theme in the film is loyalty. Thomas Becket has a difficult choice: where does his loyalty lie? With the king that brought him closer to God, or to God himself? It’s this struggle that shapes the rest of the film and gives both Becket and King Henry II fits.
The dynamic between the two main actors (Richard Burton as Becket, Peter O’Toole as King Henry II is easily one of the best. Burton and O’Toole trade barbs and play off of each other’s jokes like they truly were the best friends they claim to be in the movie. Henry fires off several rounds, while Becket ducks for cover and parries like a skilled swordsman. Dialogue flies like daggers, with both sides wounded but certainly not out of the fight.
I slept through a lot of great movies in British Literature class. The Taming of the Shrew, Braveheart (seen it, thanks) and The Importance of Being Earnest all garnered a closed eye’s worth of attention.
But something made me stay up for Becket, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Top Five Movies From Decades I Wasn’t Alive To Witness
1. Becket (1964) – See above.
2. Harvey (1950) – A giant invisible rabbit. And hallucinogens weren’t even popular yet.
3. Bringing Up Baby (1938) – Cary Grant baby-sits a leopard named Baby. What could go wrong?
4. Rear Window (1954) – My favorite Hitchcock movie by far, probably because my mother watched it so often.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – One of my favorite books adapted to a movie that actually captured the spirit and intensity of the original. Unheard of, really.