Oscar-winning scribe William Monahan (The Departed) has signed on to write/direct an adaptation of the 1959 Jean Anouilh play, Becket. Calling the project “an adaptation, or re-invigoration, of an older play, which has already been a brilliant film,” Monahan will have his work cut out for him if he’s to match the critical success experienced by 1964’s adaptation which starred Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole as Becket and King Henry II respectively. That film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and brought home the statue for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for writer Edward Anhalt.
For more on what the writer/director had to say about the project as well as a brief overview of the story itself, hit the jump. Monahan’s directorial debut, London Boulevard, stars Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. It is slated to open in the UK on November 26th and in the United States in February 2011.
In talking about Becket with Deadline, Monahan spoke highly of the source material and discussed how his film might differ from Peter Glenville’s 1964 classic, saying:
For me, it’s a chance to take on one of the greatest stories in our civilization, a double tragedy with two heroes, each of them paradoxical, each of them brilliant, each of them making mistakes that lead to their undoing. The world of the Plantagenets was very rich and we’ll open the play up into that world and go into the relationships of the Angevin court more than the 1964 film was able to do. To adapt something is to do a literary personalization of a story, so in that sense I’ll be doing a very different Becket.
As for the story of Becket itself, Anouilh’s play tells of the conflict between Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England. As the story goes, the two are the closest of friends until Becket is named the Archbishop of Canterbury at which point the two become bitter rivals over matters of church versus royalty. Conversely, in the 1964 film, Becket and King Henry II feud over the murder of a priest.
Spoiler alert: In both versions of the story, Becket is eventually slaughtered and King Henry II receives a self-imposed punishment. A classic lose-lose-situation, to be sure.