Henry II | British History Challenge: #6 and #7

In the British history challenge we now reach the reign of Henry II, and accuracy completely goes out of the window (again!)

#6 Becket

  • General Opinion: For a film with both Burton and O’Toole, this is rubbish.
  • Review: Ok… Lets get this out of the way first… At certain points in the film there are painfully visible bits of concrete all over the place, particularly in the outside scenes near the beginning. That’s only the tip of the iceberg of this film’s problems. The concrete is one of the best things about it.
  • Somehow the writer has managed to turn one of the greatest feuds between church and state into a troubled bromance.  Besides the fact that there is no evidence to state that they were actually lovers, Henry and Becket spend the first hour gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, riding horses together and subtly playing out a medieval love story against the advice of everyone else in the court. In the second hour the bromance undertone just gets worse and more obvious as Henry whinges about his ‘lost love,’ whilst Becket storms moodily around various churches and monasteries. It doesn’t help that Henry’s last words to Becket are “it hurts too much,” and that he later strips off in front of Becket’s tomb. All of this pushes what should be the main focus of the film, the feud, into a subsidiary position, and over simplifies things to the extreme.
  • As for the rest of the film… Eleanor of Aquitaine is a whiny, Matilda isn’t as formidable as she should be, the peasants are toothless wretches who throw things at each other and the French ponce around like a bunch of fairies. I could even rant for hours over the whole wildly inaccurate Saxon/Norman thing going on (which apparently the writer knew was a load of old bull but still left in anyway).
  • The dialogue is rubbish, awful wishy-washy nonsense with no substance whatsoever. It tries to be Shakespearean but fails miserably and falls flat at every turn. At times it’s almost like they’re going to burst into song. I’d recommend Meat Loaf.
  • Rating: 1/10- Dull, dated, inaccurate ditch-water that makes a total mockery of everything.

#7  The Lion in Winter

  • General Opinion: Better than the last film, then again it’s still not all that great.
  • Review: Now this is more like it! O’Toole makes up for the sham that was Beckett with a much better cast, better script and a better film in general.
  • For a start it’s miles more accurate, not brilliant, but there’s no concrete that I could see for one thing. Saying that, there is a Christmas tree which appears frequently throughout the film. That, however, is a niggle in what otherwise a solid film about a family Christmas around at the Plantagenets… Katherine Hepburn is excellent foil for O’Toole as Eleanor of Aquitane, imprisoned for the previous decade and only let out on special occasions. The two actors have a chemistry that makes them the ideal of an old married couple. They bicker, argue and scheme with increasing ferocity and it’s just great fun to watch it all unfold.
  • At the centre of this is their three sons… and the king of France. Whilst you have a young Anthony Hopkins as the future Richard the Lionheart, the other two are a bit of a damp squib. Geoffrey is practically made of cardboard and John is some kind of village idiot. Given that they’re central characters in the film’s plot, this poor acting does reduce the quality quite considerably. And then we have Timothy Dalton as the King of France. He’s a man with the potential to be evil and ruthless and you know he could do it if he wanted to but the character never goes anywhere or does anything making it a bit of a disappointment.
  • The other problem is that it’s all too enclosed and not much really happens, meaning that it gets a bit dull towards the end. To be honest, at least half an hour could have been chopped from the middle of the film and it would have been fine.
  • Rating: 5/10- Worth watching but a bit of a damp squib.

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