William Monahan to Write and Direct ‘Becket’

William Monahan (The Departed) graduated from screenwriter to writer/director with London Boulevard, for which we just saw a UK trailer. Now he’s lined up a second directorial project: an adaptation of the Jean Anouilh play Becket.

Deadline has the story, noting (as should be common knowledge) that this would follow the 1964 adaptation of the play that starred Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. But the writer/director promises that this will be “a very different Becket.”

The play, published in 1959, is a piece of historical fiction that traces the conflict between Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170, later venerated as a saint and martyr) and King Henry II of England. The two men were friends, but after being anointed Archbishop, Thomas Becket became an ascetic and strove to make the Church of England more powerful and independent, contrary to the wishes of Henry II.

Of his new adaptation, Mr. Monahan said,

It’s an adaptation, or re-invigoration, of an older play, which has already been a brilliant film… 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.

Funding is being raised, and the hope is to be in pre-production by early 2011. This seems like a good fit of writer and source — The Departed in particular suggests that William Monahan might be well-suited to re-tell one of the most famous stories of a friendship changed, with dramatic ramifications, by power and idealogy.

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