It's the mid-12th century and Normans have controlled England and its resident Saxons for two generations. The latest Norman leader, Henry II, has employed a Saxon, Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) to be his unofficial right-hand man. When he decides to make the title official, appointing Becket as chancellor, it only makes the already jealous Norman nobles and clergy angrier. When he goes even further and decides to quell an unruly church by appointing Becket as archbishop, it seems the nobles and clergy might revolt, but Henry finds that it is Becket, suddenly torn between his duty to King as chancellor and to God as archbishop, from whom he has the most to fear.
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There would have been plenty of opportunity for some My Fair Lady-type hijinks in the early part of this remarkably-controlled film, with Brynner playing the stern taskmaster and Bergman the not-so-ugly duckling about to transform into a swan. But director Anatole Litvak keeps everything measured and reasonably serious, focusing more on Bergman's dementia than the perfunctory romance that supposedly blossoms between her and Brynner. Bergman's performance (which won her an Oscar) has its hammy "look at me!" moments, but they're shrewdly undercut by the surrounding characters' suspicion that she is inventing not just her past as Anastasia but her entire dementia as well.
Continue reading: Anastasia (1956) Review