Category: Family Movies & Television

‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground': Martha Williamson on Faith, Love and a Touch of the Blues

Martha-Williamson-Signed-Sealed-Delivered-1On Feb. 2, “Touched by an Angel” creator Martha Williamson sat down for a talk at Bel-Air Presbyterian in Los Angeles, as part of its faith-based Beacon Hollywood ministry.

Williamson is currently known for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” a series of movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, which premieres a new installment, “Higher Ground,” on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 9 p.m. ET.

Signed-Sealed-Delivered-Higher-Ground

The series focuses on the “POstables,” a team based in the Denver, Colorado, office of the U.S. Postal Service, which attempts to deliver mail lost in transit and left undelivered. It’s up to the POstables to make sure the “dead letters” are, as Williamson says, “delivered late, but right on time.”

Here’s what’s happening in “Higher Ground,” from the official Website:

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans handyman and blues singer-songwriter Gabe Recolte was left homeless before he had the chance to express his love for club owner Hattie. Oliver and his team retrieve Gabe’s love letter years later and face challenges in solving the mystery. Stars Keb ‘Mo, Eric Mabius, Kristin Booth, Crystal Lowe and Geoff Gustafson.

While the stories of the POstables continue through each movie, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” also lets Williamson tell a story about new characters in each Martha-Williamson-Signed-Sealed-Delivered-2installment — as she did with “Touched by an Angel” — with faith themes threaded through.

We’ll deal with “Touched” in another post, but here are some selections from what Williams had to say about her new project.

On the tentative romance between head POstable Oliver O’Toole (Eric Mabius) and postal detective Shane McInerney (Kristin Booth):

I wanted to explore a man who’s a Christian, whose life was messed up. So, he’s married, and his wife has left him and taken off to Paris. He’s finally worked through that, and what it meant to be a man of honor and not take up with this other woman, even though he hadn’t even seen his wife for almost three years. But he wanted to do the right thing until he was released to do something else, and he was really was struggling.

He’s basically in love but hasn’t said it yet to Shane.

She is a 21st-Century technology woman, and he is a 20th-Century, basically a Luddite, who doesn’t even own a cellphone. The two of them should not be together whatsoever, but that’s not how God works, and so they’ve been going back and forth.

She’s not a believer and he is, so to pitch that to Hallmark without them thinking it it’s going to be a Christian show, was a real tap dance. But I said, “Just trust me, and as we develop these characters you’re going to want to see what happens, and you’re going to want to see his level of faith.”

On how Hallmark responded:

Michelle Vicary, the senior executive vice president [at Hallmark], said, “I’m not afraid of God,” which I thought was a very powerful thing to hear at a network.

They’ve been very supportive and I think the challenge for this that they are human. They are walking in faith, and they are at different points at faith. And they actually are responsible for maintaining other people’s faith. It’s a tremendous act of faith.

How fan response planted a seed for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”:

I found some letters that had been written to me that I never read. Fan letters. I was reminded of how people’s lives had been changed. …

I’ll never forget this one little boy in an airport once he said, “My mommy and my sister and me, we watch [‘Touched by an Angel’] all the time. My daddy watches it too, but he watches it in the den because he cries.”

And I thought that was just adorable because it said so much, that this poor man, you know, was wanting to feel things but he didn’t want to appear weak, apparently. So I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to have somebody like Oliver, a guy who’s really weak in so many ways but strong in his faith and that’s what keeps him going, and he’s a kind person?”

There’s this amazing web of fans for this crazy little show. They just deconstruct every single line. They see the Biblical references in it, even though it’s not there. … What they love is there’s this really sexy guy who struggles. He has fallen and gotten himself back up. He made bad decisions but he can still be a man of faith, and he’s a gentleman. He opens the door not because you’re a woman, he opens the door because you’re a human.

Martha-Higher-Ground

On the mature love story in “Higher Ground”:

Keb ‘Mo is one of the most remarkable blues artists in the country. Back, a few months ago performed in the White House for President and Mrs. Obamam and he performed with James Taylor and Eric Clapton. I mean, he’s an incredible musician and he’s an old friend.

One more thing you should always do is never be afraid to reach out to somebody you admire and tell them that you admire them and say thank you. Which is exactly what I did with Keb ‘Mo, and we ended up begin friends, and now he’s on our show. Hallmark is not known for its diversity, and so it took three years to get this romantic couple on the screen, and I’m very happy about that.

And also, we know this, they ain’t young. They’re older folks. Who can fall in love too.

On the romances you’ll see — including Oliver and Shane — and the future:

I didn’t know if “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was going to be picked up for three more movies, so I wrote this with the intention that, if this is the last show that we ever see in this series of movies, we will resolve some things.

The two couples that you see will come together in ways that the audience has been waiting for for a long time. I’m very happy about that, but most importantly, we finally see Shane realize, step up and become something of a believer, I would say.

She acknowledges that God has been working in her life. That’s huge. So, all the little tiny pieces were pulled together, and happily, we were picked up for three more movies for 2017, so I’m going to be busy for a while.

Here’s a sneak peek at “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground” …

Images: Courtesy Hallmark Channel

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

 

 

‘The Crown': Bishop Barron Weighs in on the Netflix Royal Drama (Plus JFK Casting!)

The-Crown-FFBDon’t know about you, but with wild weather all over the country, if there ever was a weekend meant for relaxing indoors, this might be it. For Catholic families, it might be worth putting “The Crown” on the menu (along with some tea and scones, if you like).

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer:

The sumptuous drama premiered in its entirety on Netflix back in November, but Los Angeles’ own Bishop Robert Barron had his say about it just last week.

He emphasizes how “The Crown” demonstrates the willingness of the young Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) — as a God-anointed monarch, rather than an elected leader — to subsume her own wishes to the demands of her position. Consistently, she puts duty to crown and God over self, remaining bound more to traditional values than the vicissitudes of society.

Here’s his commentary:

Bishop Barron’s thoughts echo some of what was said about “The Crown” in a recent commentary at the Catholic magazine Crisis. Here’s an excerpt:

The monarchy may not be politically powerful anymore, but the crown is still heavy, both literally and figuratively. Nearly every historical drama makes something of the struggle between tradition and changing times, but most cheer for progress, with the result being a triumphalist vindication of modern-day mores. The Crown can’t easily follow that path because of, well, the crown. If society’s primary goal is to throw off the benighted ways of our forbears, kings and queens will be the first thing to go. In discerning a meaningful role for the monarch, one must also find a meaningful role for tradition, and this is a major theme of the show. The young Queen Elizabeth must negotiate a blitz of conflicting demands that are placed on her, most of which are rooted in one way or another in the soil of tradition. As queen, she knows that she has particular obligations to tradition, so she is uniquely entrusted with sifting through the relevant questions.

“The Crown” is not perfectly historically accurate, but it’s not bad. It’s visually stunning (and apparently had a hefty price tag), but unlike many historical dramas, it doesn’t rely on titillation and scandal. This is true to life. Whereas Queen Elizabeth II’s sister and children have had their personal peccadilloes plastered all over tabloids in the U.K. and around the world, the queen herself has remained a model of rectitude and self-possession.

As head of the Anglican Communion, she also hasn’t been shy about speaking on faith. Here’s her most recent Christmas greeting. The beginning is more secular, but at about the 4:20 mark, she begins talking about Christ. The queen even echoes Saint Therese of Lisieux, in talking about “doing small things with great love.”

As far as family viewing goes, “The Crown” isn’t without flaws. There are a couple of scenes of the backside of Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”) who plays Prince Philip, and some brief female nudity during scenes in Africa. There’s blasphemy and profanity scattered here and there (the series is rated MA for two stronger uses of profanity).

But overall, with some caution — and a recommendation for parents to watch WITH their kids —  “The Crown” is suitable for mature middle-school students and high-school students.

As a Catholic American of Irish and French extraction, I have no particular love for the British monarchy. But, in a self-indulgent world obsessed with tossing aside tradition in search of the next hot trend, Queen Elizabeth II stands as an example of someone who’s devoted her entire life to a duty she neither sought nor actively chose.

And she’s done it well.

By the way, there will be a second season of “The Crown,” which begins in the 1960s with a storyline involving war in Egypt and the downfall of the queen’s third prime minister. “Dexter” star Micahel C. Hall has been cast as Catholic U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Jodi Balfour as his wife, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Image: Courtesy Netflix

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

 

Movieguide’s Faith and Values Awards Gala: An Awards Show You Can Get Behind

movieguide-faith-values-award-reelz-benhur-hacksaw-ridge-risen-andrew-garfield-joseph-fiennesOn Feb. 10, Christian media group Movieguide offers the 25th Annual Faith and Values Awards Gala, an awards show that might be upbeat and positive — and about showbiz instead of politics.

What a concept, eh?

Terry Crews is host, overseeing a slate of nominations that includes Epiphany Awards for a TV show and a movie that “greatly increased man’s love or understanding for God,” according to the press release.

terry-crews-4

The movie nominees are (in alphabetical order):

  • “Ben-Hur (2016)”
  • “God’s Not Dead 2″
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hail, Caesar!”
  • “Miracles From Heaven”
  • “Risen”
  • “Silence”
  • “The Young Messiah”

And the TV nominees:

  • “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”: Season 3, Episodes 20-22, “Emancipation,” “Absolution,” “Ascension” (ABC)
  • “The Bridge Part 2″ (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)
  • “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” (NBC)
  • “Operation Christmas” (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)
  • “The Passion: New Orleans” (Fox)
  • “Pocahontas: Dove of Peace” (CBN)
  • “A Time to Dance” (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)

Also, the Grace Awards honor an actor from one movie and one TV program for offering, as the release says, the “most inspiring performances in movies and television demonstrating God’s grace and love toward us as human beings.”

For movies:

  • Roderigo Santoro (“Ben-Hur (2016)”)
  • David A.R. White (“God’s Not Dead 2″)
  • Melissa Joan Hart (“God’s Not Dead 2″)
  • Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”)
  • Josh Brolin (“Hail, Caesar!”)
  • Robert Pike Daniel (“Hail, Caesar!”)
  • Jennifer Garner (“Miracles From Heaven”)
  • Kylie Rogers (“Miracles From Heaven”)
  • Cliff Curtis (“Risen”)
  • Joseph Fiennes (“Risen”)
  • Adam Greaves-Neal (“The Young Messiah”)

And TV:

  • Natalia Cordova-Buckley (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
  • Faith Ford (“The Bridge Part 2″)
  • Ted McGinley (“The Bridge Part 2″)
  • Alyvia Alyn Lind (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Gerald McRaney (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Dolly Parton (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Tyler Perry (“The Passion: New Orleans”)
  • Devielle Johnson (“A Time to Dance”)

Here’s a look at what else is on the agenda:

For 32 years, Movieguide and Companion Christian Film and Television Commission have been “redeeming the values of the entertainment industry by influencing industry executives and by informing and equipping the public about the influence of the entertainment media.”

The honors will be telecast on Easter Sunday, April 16, on the REELZ cable channel.

Images: Courtesy Paramount/MGM; Lionsgate; Sony/Affirm; Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

‘Faith in Media': Patrick Coffin and IHRadio’s Joseph Nesta Salute Father Patrick Peyton on His Birthday

faith-media-patrick-coffin-patrick-peyton-joseph-nestaFather Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., was born Jan. 9, 1909 in Attymass, a village in County Mayo, Ireland. He passed away in Los Angeles in 1992, but not before founding Family Theater Productions, dedicated to using modern media to help strengthen families, especially through prayer.

FTP recently sat down with several Catholic media professionals to talk about a variety of topics relating to “Faith in Media,” and one of those was the impact of Father Peyton (click here to learn more about him). These videos will also be available on our Facebook page, but below find our conversations with two of them.

Joseph Nesta is a Catholic revert and the senior community relations officer for Catholic radio network Immaculate Heart Radio.

Patrick Coffin is a cradle Catholic, an author, speaker and radio host — for many years, he was the host of “Catholic Answers Live” — and now has embarked on a solo venture at PatrickCoffin.net, featuring news and a podcast.

We’re also celebrating the 75th anniversary of another ministry of Father Peyton, Family Rosary. Here’s the announcement of what’s in store for that organization and the sainthood campaign for Father Peyton:

‘ROSARY PRIEST’ REMEMBERED DURING

FAMILY ROSARY’S 75th ANNIVERSARY YEAR

Servant of God Patrick Peyton began a mission

to build family unity through daily prayer of the Rosary

EASTON, Mass. – It all started when one father prayed one Rosary in one home. Today, that singular act has touched the lives of nearly 50 million people around the world – and it continues to spread!

Sainthood candidate Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., began Family Rosary 75 years ago with the goal of building family unity through daily prayer of the Rosary. He was inspired by his own father, who more than a century ago started praying the Rosary with his family in their poor but spiritually rich home.

Father Peyton devoted his life to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and praying her Rosary. He became gravely ill as a seminarian and the doctors had no hope of recovery. So he did as his father, John, had taught him back home in Ireland.

“Father Peyton was a seminarian, studying for the priesthood, when he was stricken with tuberculosis,” said Father Wilfred Raymond, CSC, President of Holy Cross Family Ministries. “He prayed his Rosary to the Blessed Mother and made a miraculous recovery. From that moment, he knew he was to be the one to carry out her apostolate, her ministry to bring families together for Rosary prayer, just as his family had done.”

That became the foundational experience for Father Peyton (1909-92), also known as the “Rosary Priest,” who went on to lead millions in prayer at events around the world. Father Peyton’s mission, Family Rosary (founded in 1942), continues today through programs, products, events and digital outreach to families around the world.  Recently Family Rosary’s Facebook page surpassed one million followers.  Thousands are reached daily through prayer posts, videos and spiritual messages.  The ministry’s newest outreach, the Daily Family Reflection, provides a daily homily, four-minutes in length, live from The Father Peyton Center in Easton, Massachusetts, USA, available through Facebook and also on their blog, http://blog.FamilyRosary.org.  The ministry also helps families pray through their Daily Family Prayer app and their Family Rosary app.

In addition, Family Rosary has partnered with Growing with the Saints, in the development of a Catholic vacation bible school kit that teaches children how to pray the Rosary and includes take-home elements (in English and Spanish) for the family to pray together each day.  “Tracking Mary: Mysteries & Messages,” the latest vacation bible school program by Growing with the Saints is available at www.GrowingWithTheSaints.com.

“We reach out to young parents where they are – online!” said Father Raymond.  “Helping our young families pray together to strengthen the faith of their family is the focus of everything we do.”

This year, 2017, also marks the 25th anniversary of Father Peyton’s death.  Family Rosary is honoring Father Peyton’s memory through many events and activities throughout the year.  In addition to their ongoing programs, Family Rosary will be announcing shortly the details for a very special prayer event on October 7, 2017.

The essence of Father Peyton’s ministry, which spanned half a century, is relevant and vibrant to families today.   Father Peyton touched the lives of countless individuals with his kindness, sincerity and devotion to Mary. Over the years, he advocated for families by preaching two powerful and memorable sayings: “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together” and “A World at Prayer is a World at Peace.”

The Vatican is considering Father Peyton for sainthood. His life, work, writings and actions are being examined for miracles and other evidence for the canonization of the Rosary Priest. He has been proclaimed a Servant of God in this process with the next steps being bestowal of the term Venerable for his life of heroic virtue, to be followed, God willing, by Beatification and Sainthood.

In the spirit of its founder, Servant of God Patrick Peyton, Family Rosary continues to inspire, promote and foster the prayer life and spiritual well-being of families throughout the world with programs, products and extensive digital outreach. In addition to the United States, Father Peyton’s ministry to family spirituality and prayer has offices in sixteen countries on five continents, truly encircling the globe with constant prayer with and for families of all nations.

For more information, call 800-299-7729 or visit www.FatherPeyton.org,  www.FamilyRosary.org and www.facebook.com/FamilyRosary

Family Rosary is a ministry ofHoly Cross Family Ministries, which is sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross.  www.holycrossusa.org

Images: Courtesy Family Theater Productions

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

St. Therese of Lisieux and the Problem of Filming the Story of a Soul

therese-movieJan 2 is the birthday of Therese Martin, born to a well-off and pious Catholic family in France in 1873.

Like her four sisters, Therese entered a convent. For her, like three of her sisters, that meant the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. She died at 24 of tuberculosis, but not before completing her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” which laid out her “little way” of piety, love and self-sacrifice.

The style of “The Story of a Soul” — very much that of an emotional, sometimes melodramatic young woman — is not to everyone’s liking. But Therese’s detractors seem to be in the distinct minority compared to those who’ve had their lives changed by the slim volume.

Her writings and simple philosophy had such an impact that she was canonized only 28 years after her death, becoming Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face — a k a “The Little Flower — and her feast day is on Oct. 1. Although her short life contained no great accomplishments in the usual sense, and certainly no world-spanning adventures, her spiritual depth caused Pope John Paul II to name her a Doctor of the Church.

Her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, were later also canonized. Her sister Leonie, or Sister Francoise-Therese, was declared a Servant of God, and there is a canonization cause for her as well.

It’s not surprising that people have made movies about Therese, but it’s proven a challenge to make a good one that appeals to Catholic, non-Catholic Christian and secular audiences.

Looking at two, one made in 1986 and the other in 2004, it’s interesting that the first one got the best secular review.

“Therese,” is a French production, directed by Alain Cavalier, who co-wrote with Camille de Casabianca.

Having seen it at a film festival, legendary New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby called it “cool, unsentimental, astonishingly handsome” and “resolutely objective.” He refers to star Catherine Mouchet’s performance as being done “radiantly and with a good deal of humor.”

From the review:

Therese loves Jesus with a fervor that seems to be an end in itself, and that the film makers regard as no less sincere (and miraculous) for possibly being a sublimation of other longings. Jesus is real to her. She’s even amused by a another nun who says something to the effect that it’s her misfortune to be married to a man who’s been dead 2,000 years.

The film celebrates Therese’s mysticism in a manner that always remains utterly rational – exemplified by its series of short, pungent scenes that have such visual clarity they appear to have been lighted by bolts of lightning.

The 2004 film, also called “Therese,” – directed by Leonardo Defilippis and co-written by Patti Defilippis and Saint Therese (yes, that’s what IMDB says) — got a different reaction from the secular press.

From The Austin Chronicle:

An inspirational tale aimed at believers, Thérèse is unlikely to make new converts or deepen the faith of the sympathetically inclined.

In fact, the film seems to make a case for Thérèse being a spoiled, willful child whose desire to join the convent is just another of her self-centered whims.

A more sympathetic review, from a non-Catholic Christian expresses puzzlement.

As an evangelical Protestant, however, I felt as I watched this first full-length English-language film portrayal of the young lady of Lisieux that I had somehow wandered into a theater playing a foreign film without subtitles. Something was being communicated just below the surface here, I thought, in telegraphic symbols and catchphrases, but I was too dense to quite catch the deeper meaning. I felt uncomfortable, as if I sat with a sign around my neck reading “clueless Protestant.”

The point of this cinematic morality tale (I can hardly call it a biography, let alone a history) is both painfully clear and bewilderingly alien to Protestant sensibilities: the road to intimacy with Jesus must run through renunciation and suffering. The small struggles and untimely death of a cloistered young woman can touch us and show us the way to true sanctity.

Lest you think it’s just because an Evangelical can’t grasp the subtleties of Catholic imagery or imagination, let’s turn to Catholic Deacon Steven Greydanus. He reviewed the movie for a piece that originally appeared in the National Catholic Register:

While he admired how the movie made Therese seem very human, he writes that it doesn’t quite capture what made her saintly:

Yet the movie tells rather than shows. When Thérèse speaks of giving up her own will and pleasing others, there’s a brief montage of Thérèse bringing her father a drink in the field and the like, but the film never takes Thérèse’s interest in the happiness of those around her, or of its connection with Thérèse’s actions.

Nor do we learn what was so distinctive about Thérèse’s little way. We never see her, for example, as a postulant suffering under and finally learning to mistrust the heavy ascetical practices that Carmel required, or resolve that, rather than presuming to impose great suffering upon herself (which she was aware can “quickly become a work of nature rather than grace”), she would instead in humility accept without complaint whatever suffering Jesus should send her. We never learn that she was later in charge of novices, or see her putting aside those harsh penances for her charges.

He does say it’s “sweet” and “inspirational,” but …

Realistically, hopes of Thérèse’s appeal reaching outside the believing world, or even outside the Catholic community, are unlikely to be realized. The film lacks the psychological depth and spiritual insight that attracts non-Catholics to Story of a Soul. But nominal or lapsed Catholics could be moved by its simple portrait of devotion and piety, and inspired to return to a more earnest practice of their faith.

So, what’s a filmmaker to do? Stop making movies about saints because you can’t please everyone? Certainly not, but in telling the stories of Catholicism’s most compelling figures, filmmakers have to tread a tricky path among biography, hagiography (an idealized, probably not entirely factual, biography) and evangelism. A saint’s chief purpose is to spread the Gospel, and one would think that any Catholic who makes a movie about one has the same aim.

But if the movie isn’t understandable to non-Catholics, or appealing to secular audiences, it won’t really do that (also, on a practical level, it won’t get wide distribution or make much money).

Hollywood is expert at taking morally questionable or plainly evil figures and making them seem heroic or attractive on film. We have to learn to do the same with the good people in our vast cloud of witnesses.

Speaking of which, here’s how Bishop Barron spoke of Saint Therese in the documentary miniseries “Catholicism”:

Image: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/St. Luke Productions-Xenon Pictures

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

‘Becket': Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton and a Saint in the Making

becket-1964-peter-otoole-richard-burton-ffbIn English history, serving the Church over the monarch has tended to end in martyrdom. And if you’re a martyr named Thomas — Becket or More — you might become the subject of plays and movies.

Dec. 29 is the feast day of Saint Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr, who crossed ecclesial swords with King Henry II (1133-1189) of England. By all accounts, Becket was a great friend of Henry, and a priest who nonetheless enjoyed a good time. Because of his closeness to the king, who named him chancellor, Becket resisted being made Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the Catholic Church in England.

But once he was Archbishop, the weight of the office descended on him. Becket abandoned his life of luxury and became determined to defend “the honor of God.” As we hope people will do (but they don’t, always), he rose to the occasion.

Becket eventually took sides with the Church against the king, who wanted to impose greater royal control over Church matters. Attempts at reconciliation, even involving Pope Alexander III, failed. Ultimately, Henry said (as oral tradition has held) words to the effect of, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”

Four of Henry’s knights then murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral on Dec. 29, 1170, as the monks were chanting vespers.

From the account of eyewitness Edward Grim, a monk:

Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.

T.S. Eliot commemorated the event in his verse drama, “Murder in the Cathedral,” first performed in 1935. It focused on the individual’s opposition to unjust authority, and resonated with audiences witnessing the rise of fascism in Europe. The BBC broadcast it in 1936, and it was made into a 1952 black-and-white film. It’s also been done as a radio play.

More famously, writer Edward Anhalt, director Peter Glenville and producer Hal Wallis adapted “Becket or the Honour of God,” by French playwright Jean Anouilh, into the 1964 film “Becket.”

Peter O’Toole played Henry II (a role he would reprise in 1968 in the film “The Lion in Winter”), and Richard Burton played Becket.

Here’s a sample:

Even early reviews challenged the historicity of the film, saying it took a more personal, rather than strictly factual, approach. From the March 12, 1964, New York Times:

But here the corroding factor is not so much the division of wills of two men over the issue of civil and ecclesiastical power. That is indicated, but not very forcibly; the manner gives the impression that the king is entirely in the wrong.

Here the thing that causes Henry to turn upon Becket wrathfully, to charge him with treachery and finally to call down destruction on his head, is the intolerable fact that Becket has ceased to be his loyal friend, to be the obliging companion of their drinking and wenching days. Far more invidious to Henry than Becket’s resistance to the authority of the crown is the shattering realization that his love has been spurned.

Against [O’Toole’s Henry] is ranged a Becket whom Richard Burton makes a creature of contradictory nature and frigid, inflexible will. He is ready to compromise, to bargain in his early days with the king, but he assumes stoical rigidity when he takes on “the honor of God.” There is little give in Mr. Burton’s performance, little spirituality, little warmth. He is probably very close to the Becket of history.

The film does end with Henry repenting of the murder of Becket and declaring him a saint (which Alexander III actually did, not long after Becket’s death).

A few years later, O’Toole returned as Henry in another film that climaxes near Christmas, “The Lion in Winter,” adapted by James Goldman from his own play. At least one reviewer deems it a superior film to “Becket.”

From LifeasaHuman.com:

“The Lion in Winter” is a masterpiece of a movie that feverishly paints human nature in its darkest hues. Becket is a lesser work of art — the screenplay is “Lion’s” feeble cousin — but it renders a nobler and more heroic portrait of man through its depiction of recovered honour and a life sacrificed for a higher principle. It is also a story of the deepest love, a love that is shattered by one man’s lust for power.

Along with “The Lion in Winter,” it’s hard to think of “Becket” without also thinking of 1966’s “A Man for All Seasons,” starring Robert Shaw as Henry VII and Paul Scofield as Saint Thomas More. A layman, lawyer and chancellor, More refused to reject the authority of Rome and accede to Henry’s desire to put aside his lawful Catholic queen, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn.

in 1996, as part of the commemoration of a century of cinema, the Vatican declared “A Man for All Seasons” to be one of the greatest films ever.

And here’s a taste:

Catholic movie reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus also prefers “Man,” but gives “Becket” its due.

I said above that the events of “Becket” lay like a dress rehearsal for “A Man for All Seasons.” That may not be entirely fair either; but in the end I can’t help thinking of the two films together: and, beside the blazing brilliance of the later film, even a fine production like Becket suffers from comparison. Burton’s Thomas Becket is much less accessible and attractive than Scofield’s Thomas More; and even “Becket’s” witty and Oscar-winning screenplay, written by Edward Anhalt from the Jean Anouilh stage play, pales beside Robert Bolt’s incomparable adaptation from his own play, passages of which were adapted directly from More’s own writings and records.

But Becket is nonetheless a masterpiece, reverent, well-made, literally spectacular. Besides the witty screenplay with many memorable lines, there are splendid performances, particularly from the two leads.

Now, if you haven’t seen them already, you’ve got some titles to add to your must-watch list!

Image: Courtesy Paramount

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