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Movies: “Becket”

Mar. 11, 1964 - Opening today is “Becket,” a British historical drama about the tumultuous relationship between King Henry II of England and his friend-turned-bishop Thomas Becket. The film is an adaptation of the 1959 play, “Becket or the Honour of God,” by Jean Anouilh. “Becket” was directed by Peter Glenville and released by Paramount Pictures.

Glenville directed the play on which the film is based on Broadway with Laurence Olivier as Becket and Anthony Quinn as Henry II. The film version stars Richard Burton as Becket, Peter O’Toole as Henry II, and features supporting performances by John Gielgud, Donald Wolfit, and Paolo Stoppa.

The play and film include a number of historical inaccuracies. The major inaccuracy is the depiction of Becket as a Saxon who has risen to a perceived Norman social standing, when in fact the historical Thomas Becket was a Norman. Anouilh, the playwright, did this because he had based the play on a 19th-century account that described Becket as a Saxon.

He was informed of this error before his play was produced, but he decided against correcting it because it would undermine a key point of conflict and because “history might eventually rediscover that Becket was a Saxon after all.”


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