I think that in any story, if you cannot nail this essence then there is something wrong. The audience may not even be able to say this or that is the spine, and of course it is here colored by it being historical, theological and deeply psychological. But I’m guessing if you suggested that this story is essentially about a friendship you would get people nodding in agreement. It is this spine that holds our attention and makes us keep asking where the relationship is going. We respect more and more Becket and his devotion to his calling, while at the same time feel sorry for the loss of friendship between the two. It’s inspiring.
I just watched the 2½ hour epic “Becket” again, not having seen it since I was a teenager. It’s clear to me now how wonderful a screenplay it is. Based on a French play which was based on historical characters. The settings are restricted to only a few locations and a smallish cast as well, owing no doubt to its roots as a play. The movie is none the less impressive clearly because of the acting and story. I say clearly because there are no big set pieces of fights, chases, etc (and Peter O’Toole is incredible as Henry II). The point of this post is that if you step back and ask what the story is about it is primarily about one thing, a friendship. It is a very special friendship, uniquely so, and therefore worthy of holding our interest.