At least as far back as Summer and Smoke, director Peter Glenville demonstrated a unique talent for sucking the life out of good theater. So there was little hope for this adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s Becket, or the Honor of God, which essentially modernized T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral for Freud enthusiasts. Mysteriously being resurrected at Film Forum for one week, this desiccated historical pageant about two close friends who become great ideological enemies adheres to Anouilh’s singularly obsessed idea that King Henry II’s affections for his friend Thomas Becket may have been more than platonic, inviting queer analysis as soon as the king bends over and thanks his friend for a massage: “No one does it the way you do, Thomas.” Setting up a model for Al Pacino’s career, Peter O’Toole plays Henry as an explosive trip through the character’s id. Henry’s a babyish and attention-grubbing royal who impulsively appoints Richard Burton’s Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury only to vindictively turn against his friend when Becket chooses God over him. Dully overcomposed, the film evinces a Disneyed sense of palace life and reaches a laughable apotheosis when Henry and Becket’s rendezvous on a beach is staged as a reunion between scorned lovers. In 1964, the film’s innuendo might have seemed daring; today it’s close to ridiculous.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 16, 2007