By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –
King Henry II of England was one of the most important figures in European history. He lived a fascinating life that included his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and his friendship with Thomas Becket. It is safe to say that his interactions with these two famous individuals essentially changed the course of Western civilization. Playwrights and screenwriters also like to draw upon historical events to create compelling forms of entertainment for both the stage and for the silver screen. It is no surprise, then, that the playwright Jean Anouilh would write a stage play about Henry II and Thomas Becket, and that the film adaptation of that classic dramatic work would ultimately become one of the most celebrated films in cinematic history. Becket (1964) truly is a great example of a historical epic!
The film might have the title Becket, but both performances from Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton are arguably two of the best to ever grace the silver screen. Peter O’Toole earned a “Best Actor” Academy Award nomination for bringing Henry II to life in this film, and his work was so wonderful that is really is no surprise that he would repeat that same achievement when he played that same role in The Lion in Winter (1968). Richard Burton’s portrayal as Thomas Becket is oftentimes considered his best performance even though he had other phenomenal roles, such as when he played “George” in the infamous adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). A funny coincidence is that both Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton competed against one another for the Academy Award even though Rex Harrison won that year for playing the misogynistic professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1964), and both Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton never won an Oscar during their entire careers. Nevertheless, their stellar work in this film will always remain two of the greatest performances of all time.
(It is also worth noting that Peter O’Toole acted alongside Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter, and that Hepburn is a direct descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine, which is actually one of the most interesting coincidences in both cinematic history and the history of the world.)
It is almost as if Peter O’Toole was born to play Henry II!
Historical epics have always been a popular genre for filmmakers. It can be challenging to play real-life individuals, but films like Becket have stood the test of time because of their sumptuous and lavish depictions of eras from long ago. This film is so fantastic that it is not surprising that the Academy would recognize this film with twelve nominations and one win for its adapted screenplay. Because of this fabulous film, Henry II lives on in history books, the stage, and the silver screen, and audiences can enjoy learning about one of the most fascinating men who has ever lived.
Becket (1964) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every regal costume
Take a Drink: for every dramatic moment
Do a Shot: for every clever line that earned this film an Oscar for its adapted screenplay