A huge financial and critical success in its time, Hal B. Wallis's production of Peter Glenville's Becket garnered 12 Academy Award® nominations, but has been curiously ignored over the last two decades. Adapted from Jean Anouilh's hit Broadway play -- also directed by Glenville and starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn, who alternated in the roles of martyr Saint Thomas a Becket and King Henry II of England -- Becket is a sumptuously produced, dramatically galvanizing "thinking man's" spectacle that plots the complex personal, political, and religious relationships of two towering figures of medieval Britain. Starring Oscar® nominees Richard Burton (Becket) and Peter O'Toole (King Henry II) at the peak of their respective stardoms -- Burton was still in world headlines with his inamorata, Elizabeth Taylor, and O'Toole was appearing in his first film since Lawrence of Arabia -- Becket epitomizes the very best of the prestige historical epics of the late 1950s and mid 1960s, avoiding, as it does, the dour nobility of A Man for All Seasons and the anachronistic campiness of The Lion in Winter. Wallis and Glenville assembled a superlative team behind the camera, including cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, editor Anne V. Coates, production designer John Bryan, costume designer Margaret Furse, and composer Laurence Rosenthal. Lost in the "War of the Musicals" at that year's Academy Awards, as My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins dominated category after category, Becket won only one Oscar®, for Edward Anhalt's screenplay -- which is one better than another classic, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, which went 0-for-4 that same year.
Peter Glenville (1913-1996) directed seven feature films, all of which reflected his distinguished career as a theatre director whose productions -- primarily in the 1950's and 1960's -- made him one of the most successful stagers in London and New York. His theatrical hits included The Browning Version, Separate Tables, Hotel Paradiso, Tovarich, Dylan, and the play which he would most successfully translate to film, Becket. Glenville guided some of the greatest stars of the era to career-defining stage performances, including Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Vivien Leigh, Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, and Margaret Leighton. The son of actors, Glenville studied law at Oxford before attempting a career as a performer. He played the romantic lead in the 1945 movie, Madonna of the Seven Moons, and made his debut behind the camera with 1955's The Prisoner, starring Alec Guinness. Becket garnered Glenville a Best Director Oscar nomination. His last film was 1967's The Comedians, an adaptation of Graham Green's novel which starred Taylor, Burton, Guiness, Peter Ustinov, Lillian Gish, Roscoe Lee Browne, Gloria Foster, and James Earl Jones.