Original film poster by Sanford Kossin
Directed byPeter Glenville
Written byEdward Anhalt
Based onBecket
by Jean Anouilh
Produced byHal B. Wallis
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Music byLaurence Rosenthal
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • 11 March 1964 (1964-03-11)
Running time
148 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom[1]
Budget$3 million
Box office$9.1 million[2]

Becket is a 1964 British historical drama film about the historic, tumultuous relationship between Henry II of England and his friend-turned-bishop Thomas Becket. It is a dramatic film adaptation of the 1959 play Becket or the Honour of God by Jean Anouilh made by Hal Wallis Productions and released by Paramount Pictures.[3] It was directed by Peter Glenville and produced by Hal B. Wallis with Joseph H. Hazen as executive producer. The screenplay was written by Edward Anhalt based on Anouilh's play. The music score was by Laurence Rosenthal, the cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth and the editing by Anne V. Coates.

The film stars Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II, with John Gielgud as King Louis VII, Donald Wolfit as Gilbert Foliot, Paolo Stoppa as Pope Alexander III, Martita Hunt as Empress Matilda, Pamela Brown as Queen Eleanor, Siân Phillips, Felix Aylmer, Gino Cervi, David Weston and Wilfrid Lawson.

Restored prints of Becket were re-released in 30 cinemas in the US in early 2007, following an extensive restoration from the film's YCM separation protection masters.[4] The film was released on DVD by MPI Home Video in May 2007[5] and on Blu-ray Disc in November 2008. The new film prints carry a Dolby Digital soundtrack, although the soundtrack of the original film, which originally opened as a roadshow theatrical release, was also in stereo.

Becket won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for eleven other awards, including for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and twice for Best Actor.


Thomas Becket is an advisor and companion of the carousing King Henry II. Henry appoints Becket as Lord Chancellor to have a close confidant in this position whom he can completely control. Henry is less interested in his royal duties than drunken forays in the royal hunting grounds and pursuing peasant women. He becomes increasingly dependent on Becket, a Saxon commoner, who arranges these debaucheries when he is not busy running Henry's court. This foments great resentment on the part of Henry's Norman noblemen, who distrust and envy this Saxon upstart, as well as Henry's wife Queen Eleanor and Henry's mother Empress Matilda, who see Becket as an unnatural and unseemly influence upon the King.

Henry finds himself in continuous conflict with the elderly Archbishop of Canterbury, who opposes the taxation of Church property to support Henry's military campaigns in France. During one of his campaigns in coastal France, he receives news that the archbishop has died. In a burst of inspiration, Henry exercises his prerogative to pick the next Archbishop, and informs an astonished Becket that he is the royal choice.

Shortly thereafter, Becket sides with the Church, throwing Henry into a fury. One of the main bones of contention is Thomas' excommunication of Lord Gilbert, one of Henry's most loyal stalwarts, for seizing and ordering the killing of a priest who had been accused of sexual indiscretions with a young girl, before the priest can even be handed over for ecclesiastical trial. Gilbert then refused to acknowledge his transgressions and seek absolution.

The King has a dramatic secret meeting with the Bishop of London in his cathedral. He lays out his plan to remove Becket through scandal and innuendo, which the envious Bishop of London quickly agrees to. These attempts fall flat when Becket, in full ecclesiastic garb, confronts his accusers and announces that as Archbishop he will petition the Pope for a ecclesiastical trial, causing Henry to laugh and bitterly note the irony of having his friend turn into his enemy.

Becket escapes to France where he encounters the conniving yet sympathetic King Louis. King Louis sees in Becket a means by which he can further his favourite pastime, tormenting the English. Louis provides refuge for Becket at the Abbey of Saint Martin while the English send emissaries to retrieve Becket.

Becket then travels to the Vatican, where he begs the Pope to allow him to renounce his position and retire to a monastery as an ordinary priest. The Pope reminds Becket that he has an obligation as a matter of principle to return to England and take a stand against civil interference in Church matters. Becket yields to this decision and asks Louis to arrange a meeting with Henry on the beaches at Normandy. Henry asks Becket whether or not he loved him and Becket replied that he loved Henry to the best of his ability. A shaky truce is declared and Becket is allowed to return to England.

Henry then rapidly sinks into drunken fixation over Becket and his perceived betrayal. The barons worsen his mood by pointing out that Becket has become a folk hero among the vanquished Saxons, who are ever restive and resentful of their Norman conquerors. During a drunken rage, Henry asks "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" His faithful barons hear this and proceed quickly to Canterbury, where they put Thomas and his Saxon deputy, Brother John, to the sword. A badly shaken Henry then undergoes a penance by whipping at the hands of Saxon monks.

Henry, fresh from his whipping, informs the barons that the ones who killed Becket will be found and justly punished. He then publicly proclaims to the crowd outside the church his arrangement for Thomas Becket to be canonised as a saint.


Background and production

The film was made at Shepperton Studios, England, and on location at Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle and Bamburgh Beach in Northumberland.[citation needed]

Peter O'Toole went on to play King Henry II once more in The Lion in Winter (1968).

Siân Phillips, who plays Gwendolen, was Peter O'Toole's wife at the time of filming.[6]


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Most of the historical inaccuracies in the film are from the play, as Anouilh was writing drama rather than a history, and he took dramatic licence.

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[7] (while Henry was an Angevin). Anouilh did this because he had based the play on a 19th-century account that described Becket as a Saxon. He had been informed of this error before his play was produced, but 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."

Becket is depicted as Henry's loyal "drinking pal", who assists him with illicit romantic entanglements and drunken hunting exercises, but who becomes saintly and responsible after his appointment as Archbishop. Passing mention is made in the film of the Constitutions of Clarendon (simply as the "Sixteen Articles"); the struggle between Becket and Henry is boiled down to their conflict over Lord Gilbert's murder of the captive priest. In no way is Becket depicted as a man who desired special legal privileges (defrocking rather than prison) for his clergy, as some believe.

Henry's mother, Empress Matilda, died in 1167, three years before the treaty of Fréteval allowed Becket to return in England. Henry appears to not have any respect for his mother and treats her as something of an annoyance, a rather drastic departure from what is generally held as historical fact. Empress Matilda was Henry's sole parent for much of his childhood, and she was instrumental in shaping Henry into the fierce warrior and skilled administrator he was. Far from seeing his mother as a burden, Henry seems to have adored Matilda and relied heavily on her advice and guidance until her death.

Henry's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was in fact beautiful, and highly educated. She was known to have an amicable marriage with Henry despite his mistresses and frequent absences. She is shown publicly rebuking Henry in a scene near the end of the film, when in fact Eleanor, whatever private reservations she may have had, is not known to have ever behaved in such a manner in public. During the same scene, she says she will go to her father to complain of Henry's treatment of her; however, her father William X, Duke of Aquitaine had died decades before, when Eleanor was just 15 years old.

Also, the film only shows four sons of Henry and Eleanor. In actuality, Henry and Eleanor had eight children, five sons and three daughters. While the eldest son, William, had died before the events of the film, the three daughters are neglected.

Production financing

The film grossed $9,164,370 at the box office,[2] earning $3 million in rentals.[8]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 75% of 28 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7.2/10.[9]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[10][11] Best Picture Hal B. Wallis Nominated
Best Director Peter Glenville Nominated
Best Actor Richard Burton Nominated
Peter O'Toole Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Gielgud Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Edward Anhalt Won
Best Art Direction – Color Art Direction: John Bryan and Maurice Carter;
Set Decoration: Patrick McLoughlin and Robert Cartwright
Best Cinematography – Color Geoffrey Unsworth Nominated
Best Costume Design – Color Margaret Furse Nominated
Best Film Editing Anne V. Coates Nominated
Best Scoring of Music – Substantially Original Laurence Rosenthal Nominated
Best Sound John Cox Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Anne V. Coates Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[12] Best Film from any Source Peter Glenville Nominated
Best British Film Nominated
Best British Actor Peter O'Toole Nominated
Best British Screenplay Edward Anhalt Nominated
Best British Art Direction – Colour John Bryan Won
Best British Cinematography – Colour Geoffrey Unsworth Won
Best British Costume Design – Colour Margaret Furse Won
British Society of Cinematographers[13] Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Geoffrey Unsworth Won
Cinema Writers Circle Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Directors Guild of America Awards[14] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Peter Glenville Nominated
Fotogramas de Plata Best Foreign Performer Richard Burton Won
Golden Globe Awards[15] Best Motion Picture – Drama Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Richard Burton Nominated
Peter O'Toole Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Peter Glenville Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Laurence Rosenthal Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Drama 4th Place
Top Male Dramatic Performance Richard Burton Won
Peter O'Toole 4th Place
National Board of Review Awards[16] Best Film Won
Top Ten Films 2nd Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[17] Best Screenplay Edward Anhalt Nominated
Sant Jordi Awards Best Performance in a Foreign Film Peter O'Toole Won
Writers Guild of America Awards[18] Best Written American Drama Edward Anhalt Won


Becket and its spiritual sequel The Lion in Winter were both nominated for Best Picture in their respective years 1964 and 1968. Both lost in years which were considered by many to be musical film showdowns, where two high-profile musical films were in contention to win Best Picture: Mary Poppins and winner My Fair Lady against Becket in 1964, Funny Girl and winner Oliver! against The Lion in Winter in 1968.


The Academy Film Archive preserved Becket in 2003.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Variety Staff (31 December 1963). "Becket". Variety. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for Becket. The Numbers. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  3. ^ Variety film review; 4 March 1964, page 6.
  4. ^ "'Becket'".
  5. ^ "DVD details". IMDb.
  6. ^ Sian Phillips: Public Places: The Autobiography, Hodder&Stoughton, 2002
  7. ^ "Becket: forking Normans and a not so turbulent priest". The Guardian. 1 January 2009.
  8. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39.
  9. ^ "Becket". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 8 October 2023.
  10. ^ "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  11. ^ "NY Times: Becket". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 25 December 2008.
  12. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1965". BAFTA. 1965. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  13. ^ "Best Cinematography in Feature Film" (PDF). Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  14. ^ "17th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  15. ^ "Becket – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  16. ^ "1964 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  17. ^ "1964 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  18. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2010.
  19. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.