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The Use Of The Word “Cold” In The Film Beckett Essay, Research Paper
“How cold it was when we last met.” This is one of the many examples of how King Henry II
portrays his spiritual emptiness in the classic film “Beckett.” In all great works of literature writers
utilize images and symbols to display important themes. In this distinguished film, the word cold is
used to exemplify the portrayal of a devoted friendship between two men; nonetheless, the two lack
both love and conscience for any human. Throughout the film, King Henry II persisted to remain a
passionless person with an empty soul. On the other hand, his best friend, Thomas Beckett
experiences a sudden transformation, when he is appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and his
callous heart is warmed by the love of God and ultimately his soul is saved. Therefore, in the film
Beckett, the word cold is used to demonstrate the emotional and spiritual emptiness in the souls of
these two men.
In the beginning, one can obviously realize that Henry and Beckett are uncaring individuals who
influence others for their own gain. Insensitive and impervious, Beckett and Henry debauch and
drink without end. Wandering the English countryside, together the two men roam pursuing women.
Stumbling upon a peasant girl, Henry chooses to trade the worthless girl to Beckett, in exchange for
a “favor for favor,” which would be redeemed later. Thereafter, Henry demands the return of the
favor by seeking Becketts mistress Gwendolyn. When Beckett acquiesces, Gwendolyn questions
his honor. Sadly, she pleads, “will you take me back?” As he rejects her he responds, “where there
should be honor there’s a void.” This results with Gwendolyn taking her own life; we are led to
believe that it is not a matter of Henry’s imminent seduction, but Becketts cruel rejection of
In addition, the two men, a king and a church deacon show no sympathy for the church or
England. Both men were constantly at odds with the church. In spite of that, Henry tries to attain
full control of church and state, his faithful and serving friend Thomas Beckett compliantly helps
Henry bring about his ascension of power. To implant his authority over the church, Henry demands
taxation. In order to manipulate the church, Henry appoints Beckett Chancellor of England.
Essentially, he tells the church to “pay up.” Consequently, a priest doubts Becketts loyalty as a
Saxon and a church deacon, Beckett responds to this by saying, “England is my ship and the King is
its captain.” To establish Becketts position as Chancellor of England, Henry gives him the ring,
which symbolizes the seal of England. Again, Henry refers to being cold in this scene, which shows
that his soul is being drained because he is utilizing Beckett for his own gain.
Although, Beckett’s heart remains hardened when he gives away his mistress Gwendolyn, once he is
given the ring of Arch Bishop, he shows a sudden change of heart towards people and most of all
God. An example of Beckett’s change towards people is his suprising decision to suddenly donate
his clothes and worldly possessions to the poor. Another change in him is his attitude towards God.
He is seen by Brother John, kneeling down and praying to God and John’s view of Beckett
immediately changes. This led John to believe that Beckett has wholeheartedly embraced and
pledged his undying loyalty to God. Soon Henry, too, realizes that Beckett no longer is his right
hand man and his loyalty lies with God. Beckett upholds his position as a servant to God. This
position was challenged by the King when a priest was accused of the rape of a girl, in a friend of
Henry’s villages. As a favor to Lord Gilbert, Henry attempts to try the priest in a civil court.
Knowing that a priest must be tried by the church, Beckett objects. When the priest was killed at
Lord Gilbert’s command, Beckett demands his excommunication. In retaliation, Henry’s wrath is
seen in first falsely accusing Beckett of embezzlement, then these brutal words, “Will no one rid of
me of this turbulent priest?” These fateful words call upon Becketts death. When Beckett opened
the doors to the church, he knew that Henry would have him slain. Beckett ends with his last words,
“Poor Henry,” expressing his sorrow for Henry and that he will never know the spiritual warmth of
Therefore, it becomes clear that the single word “cold” in the classic film Beckett involves
several levels of imagery. Primarily, the word reflects the “coldness” in the soul of one man, lacking
emotional and spiritual belief, King Henry II of England, a callous, selfish, man shows no care for his
family, his kingdom, his friends, and ultimately, God. As he betrays his only friend, Thomas Beckett,
we see a man whose soul is beyond salvation. Yet, what is perhaps, more important is the portrayal
of Thomas Beckett as a man, once a willing comrade to the heartless Henry; now the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Thomas Beckett reveals himself to be a man willing to sacrifice not only his worldly
goods, but his own life, in the pursuit of God’s grace. In finally finding his honor in God, Beckett’s
soul is warmed by his deep religion conviction. As he dies, he forgives his friend, lamenting that
Henry will never be forgiven by God. His final words, “Poor Henry,” reminds us that it is the “cold
hearted,” King, not the slain saint, who is lost to the world. As in many great works of art, one small
symbolic image encompasses the deeper truth inherent in the work.
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