Saturday, January 12, 2008

What's Better? -- Becket vs. A Man For All Seasons

The reason I ask is that I've been slogging my way through Becket recently. While it is nice and all as an historical drama, I find myself annoyed at Becket's perfection. The character isn't smug, but the movie strikes me as smug. Henry is so over-the-top immature, and there is no encounter where Becket doesn't seem to come out smelling like a saint. (Perhaps, with the exception of when he tells his beloved who has just been taken by Henry that if the king tires of her, he won't take her back.)

I also find the expository prayer to be a grating device. Rather than allowing us to figure out Becket's emotions or character, we just have dialog in which he announces it in the form of prayer.

My question, though, stems from the fact that most people could make (or have made) the same comments about More in A Man For All Seasons, a movie that I'm actually quite fond of.

Is there a difference between the two? Or is it just the time periods in my life when I saw them?

1 comment:

peter waldron said...

For me there is a difference between the two, although I'm not sure I can express it in any objective terms, even to myself. You're right to say that both movies suffer somewhat (if "suffer" is the right word for such good movies) from impossibly holy protagonists. On a very reductionist level, I think "A Man for All Seasons" suffers less, simply because it's less difficult to believe in Paul Scofield as a holy man than Richard Burton.
On a perhaps more meaningful level, I prefer AMFAS to Becket because of More's humanizing flashes of anger and despair at key moments. In his first meeting with Cromwell he defends himself ably until finally, losing his patience, he snaps that the charges against him are "TERRORS FOR CHILDREN, not for me!" Although his collision course with the King may have been impossible to alter, the hauteur of his outburst only deepens Cromwell's antagonism. When hot-headed Roper wants More to arrest Rich before he can commit his betrayal, More lectures him about the prudence of giving the Devil the benefit of law, and in the middle of the speech he can't resist lashing out at Roper's Reformation sympathies by pointing out that if anyone were to cut down the law to get at the Devil, Roper would be "just the man to do it." And, most poignantly, in the jail scene where his wife tells him she's afraid she'll hate him for his decision when he's gone, his determination finally fails him, and he breaks down: "Well...you musn't Meg, you musn't...."
It's been a long time since I last saw Becket, but a don't remember any scenes--at least none as strong as those--that give the viewer the same peek behind Becket's facade of perfection. More may be holy, but he is not allowed to be perfect.