Saturday, July 21, 2007
BECKET (1964, UK/USA, Peter Glenville, Edward Anhalt screenplay from the play by Jean Anouilh)
My prince, I wish I cold help you.
What are you waiting for?
For the honor of God and the honor of the king to become one.
That may take long.
This lavish screen adaptation of the acclaimed stage play was immensely celebrated in its day but completely neglected in our own, despite a dozen Academy Award nominations. Apart from a hard-to-find, low quality videotape, this classic film about King Henry II and the martyred Saint Thomas a Becket was out of circulation for four decades until Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation financed an extensive 35mm restoration, completed in 2007.
BECKET is a visually glorious evocation of the color and texture of life in the 12th century. The performances too are grand (but never false or stagey), with two of the greatest actors of the era meeting at the peak of their powers: Henry II was Peter O'Toole's first role after his electrifying Lawrence Of Arabia, and Richard Burton (as Thomas) was fresh in viewers' minds from his work opposite Elizabeth Taylor in CLEOPATRA.
Still, the real power of BECKET lies not in its historical pomp and star casting, or even in its language, which is glorious (and gloriously spoken), but in one of history’s great stories of spiritual transformation, of a great friendship torn asunder by the gospel that comes "not with peace but with a sword." When the young and profligate King Henry decides to make a mockery of church interference in his kingdom by appointing his drinking and womanizing buddy as Archbishop of Canterbury, he has no idea that Thomas will find a divine calling – a man without honor who finds himself defending the honor of God, "vulnerable as a boy king fleeing from danger."
In Reel Spirituality Robert K. Johnston identifies BECKET (along with DEAD MAN WALKING, BABETTE’S FEAST, BREAKING THE WAVES, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, ANDREI RUBLEV and THE GREEN MILE) as a film that seems "uniquely able to mediate the holy, to be the occasion for epiphanies." Including his own. As a young man, Johnston himself found a life-changing sense of vocation through the film, despite a sense of personal unworthiness. He heard in the story of the 12th-century saint an invitation that is the essential core of this indispensable film: "You need not be holy. Thomas was not. You only have to be obedient to my call."
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Available at Videomatica