Sunday, December 30, 2007

Woodward: The Feast of St. Thomas Becket

In honor of his feast day, my children and I tonight watched Becket, the curious film adaptation of Jean Anouilh's curious play about the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury. It's a movie that I always try hard to like and sometimes succeed in liking -- at least in part. Anouilh's play, and Edward Anhalt's screenplay based on it, do a fine job of depicting the emotional ebbs and flows of an intense and troubled friendship. They don't do nearly so good a job of portraying the inner life of a saint -- much less the fascinating story of how a sinner becomes a saint. Perhaps we shouldn't judge that failure too harshly. I can't think of a single example of a dramatist or novelist who has told such a story well.

The movie is pretty to look at, the two leads (Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton) have a heck of a good time, and we get to watch the great Donald Wolfit in one of his all-too-rare film performances. Still, as hagiography, Becket falls pretty short. If you want a more thoughtful and penetrating study of the sinner-turned-saint, Robert Hugh Benson's little book (now apparently out of print) is a better bet.