Becket (1964)

148 or 165 mins | Drama | March 1964

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HISTORY

Becket was adapted from French playwright Jean Anouilh’s 1959 stage play, Becket, ou l’honneur de Dieu (which translates to Becket, or the Honor of God), a dramatization of the events leading up to the murder of English Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. The play had its Broadway debut on 5 Oct 1960 at the St. James Theatre, starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn as “Thomas Becket” and “King Henry II,” and went on to receive four Tony Awards, including Best Play. The following summer, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) staged a production at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England, with Eric Porter and Christopher Plummer in the lead roles. Items in the 6 Oct 1960 and 11 Nov 1960 NYT indicated that Peter O’Toole was initially cast to play King Henry II on the stage, but he later left the RSC to star in Lawrence of Arabia (1962, see entry).
       In the months preceding its London debut, a 22 Mar 1961 Var item announced that Broadway producer David Merrick was discussing offers for a potential motion picture adaptation. The rights eventually went to producer Hal Wallis of Paramount Pictures, with Broadway director Peter Glenville reprising his role behind the camera. Although various sources suggested that Glenville was also hired to write the script, Edward Anhalt is the film’s only credited screenwriter.
       Items in the 24 Nov 1961 and 2 Jan 1962 DV indicated that Laurence Harvey and Laurence Olivier were in early consideration to star before a 28 Sep 1962 DV brief announced the hiring of Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, returning to ... More Less

Becket was adapted from French playwright Jean Anouilh’s 1959 stage play, Becket, ou l’honneur de Dieu (which translates to Becket, or the Honor of God), a dramatization of the events leading up to the murder of English Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. The play had its Broadway debut on 5 Oct 1960 at the St. James Theatre, starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn as “Thomas Becket” and “King Henry II,” and went on to receive four Tony Awards, including Best Play. The following summer, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) staged a production at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England, with Eric Porter and Christopher Plummer in the lead roles. Items in the 6 Oct 1960 and 11 Nov 1960 NYT indicated that Peter O’Toole was initially cast to play King Henry II on the stage, but he later left the RSC to star in Lawrence of Arabia (1962, see entry).
       In the months preceding its London debut, a 22 Mar 1961 Var item announced that Broadway producer David Merrick was discussing offers for a potential motion picture adaptation. The rights eventually went to producer Hal Wallis of Paramount Pictures, with Broadway director Peter Glenville reprising his role behind the camera. Although various sources suggested that Glenville was also hired to write the script, Edward Anhalt is the film’s only credited screenwriter.
       Items in the 24 Nov 1961 and 2 Jan 1962 DV indicated that Laurence Harvey and Laurence Olivier were in early consideration to star before a 28 Sep 1962 DV brief announced the hiring of Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, returning to the role he previously passed on the legitimate stage. O’Toole also served as a co-producer through his company, Keep Films, while his wife, Sian Phillips, appeared as “Gwendolen.”
       An 11 Sep 1963 Var news item stated that principal photography took place 13 May to late Aug 1963 at Shepperton Studios outside London. According to the 30 Jun 1963 NYT, the elaborate “Canterbury Cathedral” set on Stage H was used for just ten days of shooting, despite taking seventeen weeks to construct. Falcons for the hunting sequence were provided by Roger Upton, who spent more than a week preparing the scene with Glenville and the horses hired for the film, as reported in the 17 Apr 1964 LAT. A 4 Dec 1963 DV item stated that the total production cost was $4 million.
       According to the 11 Sep 1963 DV, Hal Wallis’s chief editor of thirty years, Warren Low, was prohibited from working on the picture due to the Eady Levy, which restricted the number of non-British crewmembers.
       A 29 Jan 1964 Var brief indicated that Becket would be screened for a benefit event on 10 Mar 1964 at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City. The following day, Paramount launched a 70mm, 165-minute roadshow engagement, with items in the 15 and 22 Jan 1964 Var citing venues in ten major North American cities. According to the 19 Mar 1964 LAT, the West Coast release began the previous day at the Stanley Warner Theatre in Beverly Hills, and eventually expanded to ten Southern California theaters later that fall, as reported in the 15 Oct 1964 LAT. The international tour began 26 Mar 1964 at the Plaza Theatre in London, where it was released with a running time of 148 minutes.
       Becket was a resounding critical success. In his 19 Mar 1964 review, LAT critic Philip K. Scheuer called the adaptation an “impressive film drama” and “a careful and conscientious restating of the play.” Edward Anhalt won an Academy Award for Writing (Screenplay—based on material from another medium), while the film was honored with nominations in eleven additional categories: Actor (Richard Burton), Actor (Peter O’Toole), Actor in a Supporting Role (John Gielgud), Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume Design (Color), Film Editing, Music (Music Score—substantially original), Sound, Directing, and Best Picture. The movie was also nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, of which it won two, and six British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, of which it won three.
       Four years later, Peter O’Toole again played King Henry II in The Lion in Winter (1968, see entry), opposite Katharine Hepburn as “Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
24 Nov 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
2 Jan 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
21 May 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Sep 1962.
---
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1962.
---
Daily Variety
11 Sep 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
4 Dec 1963.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Mar 1964
Section C, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
17 Apr 1964
Section D, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
15 Oct 1964
Section C, p. 13.
New York Times
6 Oct 1960
p. 49.
New York Times
11 Nov 1960
p. 35.
New York Times
30 Jun 1963
p. 65.
New York Times
3 Jan 1964
p. 14.
New York Times
17 Feb 1965
p. 38.
Variety
22 Mar 1961
p. 4.
Variety
11 Sep 1963
p. 16.
Variety
15 Jan 1964
p. 20.
Variety
22 Jan 1964
p. 24.
Variety
29 Jan 1964
p. 13.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
MAKEUP
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Asst to the prod
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Becket, ou l'honneur de Dieu by Jean Anouilh (Paris, 8 Oct 1959).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1964
Premiere Information:
New York benefit screening: 10 March 1964
New York opening: 11 March 1964
Los Angeles opening: 18 March 1964
Production Date:
13 May--late August 1963
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Film Service
Copyright Date:
9 March 1964
Copyright Number:
LP28979
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
gauge
35mm & 70mm
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
148 or 165
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 12th-century England, King Henry II, descendant of Norman conquerors, is at odds with the church because he spends most of his time hunting, drinking, and womanizing with his Saxon friend Thomas Becket, who also advises him on matters of state. Antagonism between church and state mounts when the church refuses to allocate funds for Henry's battle with France. To tie Becket closer to his court, Henry makes him Chancellor of England, and from this position Becket fights the church on Henry's behalf. The two continue to rule England as steadfast friends until Henry impetuously demands payment for a past favor and asks for Becket's mistress, Gwendolen. The honor-bound Becket submits to the king's request, but Gwendolen takes her own life. Following the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry appoints Becket to the archbishopric, despite the protests of most of the clergy and Becket himself, who claims that he cannot serve both God and the king. Becket assumes his office with religious dignity and, finding himself in opposition to Henry's interference in the church, resigns as Chancellor of England. Furious because he mistakenly believed that installing his best friend as archbishop would give him control of the church, Henry joins forces with Becket's enemy, Folliot, the Bishop of London, in an attempt to bring Becket to trial on false charges of embezzlement. Becket escapes to France where King Louis VII helps him reach the Vatican. Pope Alexander III offers him sanctuary in a monastery, and Louis arranges for a final meeting between Becket and Henry. The confrontation between the two former friends is an emotional one, and Henry guarantees Becket's safe conduct back to England. There, the Saxons ... +


In 12th-century England, King Henry II, descendant of Norman conquerors, is at odds with the church because he spends most of his time hunting, drinking, and womanizing with his Saxon friend Thomas Becket, who also advises him on matters of state. Antagonism between church and state mounts when the church refuses to allocate funds for Henry's battle with France. To tie Becket closer to his court, Henry makes him Chancellor of England, and from this position Becket fights the church on Henry's behalf. The two continue to rule England as steadfast friends until Henry impetuously demands payment for a past favor and asks for Becket's mistress, Gwendolen. The honor-bound Becket submits to the king's request, but Gwendolen takes her own life. Following the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry appoints Becket to the archbishopric, despite the protests of most of the clergy and Becket himself, who claims that he cannot serve both God and the king. Becket assumes his office with religious dignity and, finding himself in opposition to Henry's interference in the church, resigns as Chancellor of England. Furious because he mistakenly believed that installing his best friend as archbishop would give him control of the church, Henry joins forces with Becket's enemy, Folliot, the Bishop of London, in an attempt to bring Becket to trial on false charges of embezzlement. Becket escapes to France where King Louis VII helps him reach the Vatican. Pope Alexander III offers him sanctuary in a monastery, and Louis arranges for a final meeting between Becket and Henry. The confrontation between the two former friends is an emotional one, and Henry guarantees Becket's safe conduct back to England. There, the Saxons give Becket a warm welcome. The frustrated Henry impulsively calls for the elimination of the meddlesome priest, however, and four barons murder Becket before the altar in Canterbury Cathedral. Stricken by the loss of his friend and filled with guilt, Henry allows himself to be flogged by Saxon monks and then proclaims Becket a saint. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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