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Film Review: Becket: Dictum Meum Pactum

Film Review: Becket: Dictum Meum Pactum

Robert L. Jones

2 Mins
|
March 23, 2011

May 2007 -- Becket. Starring Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, Donald Wolfit, Martita Hunt, Pamela Brown, Siân Phillips, Felix Aylmer, Gino Cervi, and Paolo Stoppa. Music by Laurence Rosenthal. Cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth, B.S.C. Edited by Anne V. Coates, A.C.E. Screenplay by Edward Anhalt, based on the play by Jean Anouilh. Directed by Peter Glenville.  (A Paramount Release of a Hal Wallis Production, 1964. Re-released by MPI Media Group/Slowhand Cinema Releasing, 2007. Color, 148 minutes. MPAA Rating: Not Rated.)

Say what you want about Martin Scorsese, auteur of the dark anti-hero aesthetic: The man’s clearly in love with Hollywood’s Golden Age. He’s put himself on the line for almost two decades helming the Film Foundation, bringing public attention to the need for film preservation. Without the Foundation’s efforts, such masterworks as Lawrence of Arabia, How Green Was My Valley, On the Waterfront, and Rear Window might have been lost to movie audiences forever.

Now, thanks to the Foundation and to Academy Film Archive director Michael Pogorzelski’s painstaking restoration, the 1964 romantic classic Becket has been re-released in all its pomp, pageantry, and Technicolor glory.

Fresh off his brilliant turn in Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole gives a bombastic, explosive performance as the hated Angevin king of England, Henry II. In one of his finest screen roles, legendary Welsh actor Richard Burton plays his enforcer, Thomas à Becket, with cool-headed erudition.

Whether looting among the Saxons, taking liberties with wenches, or even having his wife taken from him by Henry, Becket’s a loyal pal and reliable stooge. Then, one day, trying to put one over on the pesky clergy, Henry devises a brilliant scheme to install his drinking buddy as Archbishop of Canterbury.

But what begins as a fun romp in the “buddy picture” tradition veers into the sublime when Becket begins to understand the enormous gravity and honor required by his office. Transformed from yes-man into his own man, he refuses to render the things holy before God to O’Toole’s spoiled brat of a Caesar, who is driven to betray Becket by an unrequited love that dare not speaketh its name.

A fascinating study of integrity in the face of corruption, Becket is an unforgettable Medieval epic from the same decade that gave us A Man for All Seasons and The Lion in Winter (also starring O’Toole). Experience the grandeur of a bygone era when “over the top” meant “larger than life.”

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