Henry II and Thomas Becket duke it out on the church vs state issue.
Long but excellent. In all respects but one, this is very good history. Henry II is tired of the uppity priests demanding that they have the right to try their own people and are not under his authority, so when the Archbishop of Canterbury kicks off suddenly in the middle of this debate, he pushes through the nomination of his old drinking-and-roistering buddy, Thomas Becket…except that Becket finds out that his loyalty shifts to God instead of the king.
Peter O’Toole plays Henry II, a role he recreates in The Lion in Winter. Richard Burton is Becket. John Gielgud has a short role as the French King, who shelters Becket for a while.
So all that is really good. There are also a couple of nice family scenes with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and kids (including, although not mentioned, Richard I aka Lionheart). The neverending embroidery project Eleanor and Henry’s mom are working on is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is fun if you notice it. There are other small but excellent details like that in the movie.
The big problem here is that the writer, Jean Anouilh, wrote the script after reading the story in a book that had been published many years earlier…and all the stuff about Becket being a Saxon, which is central to this movie, just ain’t so.
But this is still an excellent movie. Yes, it’s long slow and talky. Yes, for a medieval movie there is very little (read: none til the last scene) swordplay. Yes, Burton is unbelieveably serious and ponderous. But the script is good, the history is by and large good, the writing is excellent, Peter O’Toole (serious honey) is at the top of his form…this one is definitely worth seeing.