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A Director's Dream Come True
AvhHines3 August 2006
How lucky can you be to get a script like this and a cast like this all in the same movie? I've been shocked at some of the negative comments by other viewers. I was quite young when the movie came out, and didn't realize for years that Peter O'Toole wasn't the fifty year old he was playing, and Hepburn was exactly Eleanor's age at the time, so I fail to see the age mismatched some have mentioned. I'm fifty myself now, and I still find O'Toole perfectly plausible as a fifty year old in this movie. (Although, DAMN, he looked GOOD! What a gorgeous man!)

As for the 'anachronistic dialog,' it was extremely intentional and would have been totally wrong without it. To our ears, the possibly more elegant speech of the period would have sounded unnatural; only by using modern language could these people sound to us as they would have sounded to each other - normal.

The acting is brilliant - it would have been very hard to find any other actor who could share a screen with Hepburn without fading away to nothing, or an actress who could have done the same with O'Toole - only two of such power could stand up to one another. And this was absolutely right for these characters - as best we know, Henry and Eleanor were both that kind of person - brilliant, witty, strong-willed powerhouses. Then the supporting cast: Hopkins, Castle, Terry, and Dalton. Granted, they weren't known at the time, so Harvey, the director, may not have realized right off the bat that he had the cast of a lifetime, but he surely must have realized it fast.

Then there's the script. Like most of Oscar Wilde's plays, you could pick it up, open it to any page, and find at least half a dozen quotable lines. No, people aren't normally that witty in real life, but a) these were VERY bright people as historical fact, and b) it's a play/movie! People don't speak in real life as they do in Oscar Wilde either, but it's enjoyable as hell to watch. Get over it!

Some things I love about the movie are that it's made clear that no matter what Henry tells Alys, Eleanor, or himself for that matter, his real love and true equal is always Eleanor, just as he is hers. Also that, despite the at least a dozen apparent power shifts in the course of the movie, at the end, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has changed. And you can tell that with this bunch, nothing ever will change unless it's due to factors out of their control, like death.

A matter of slight historical correction to other user comments: Alys was legally betrothed to Richard; that's why she'd been raised by Eleanor.

A historical correction to the script is that John, while thoroughly detestable personally, was not at all stupid, sniveling, or whining; his actual character was actually far closer to that of Geoffrey's in the script. Very little is actually known about the historical Geoffrey except that he was actually, if anything, more of a warrior than Richard, and of course, he died quite young, leaving behind two children, the son being the legal heir to Richard, and who died at the age of twelve or so, ostensibly of disease, possibly in reality of John. This wasn't considered that bad a thing, btw, as no one wanted a child as king, and John was the only one of the whole bunch who'd spent most of his life in England itself. The English nobles had seriously resented both Henry's (in his later years especially, as he tried to carve an inheritance for John out of Europe in general, France in particular) and Richard's neglect (Richard had barely set foot in England in his entire life, and was utterly indifferent to it except as a source of revenue). Also, of course, there's no historical evidence for an affair between Henry and Alys EXCEPT that I've read at least one source suggesting that Richard used this as an excuse to not go through with the marriage itself. And there's CERTAINLY no historical suggestion that Richard and Philip had an affair, although it seems highly likely that Richard was gay insofar as he was sexual at all. Bastards of royalty were a dime a dozen in those days, but NONE are attributed to Richard, nor a whiff or rumor of any affairs he ever had. Both Henry and John, on the other hand, would chase anything wearing a dress, and this was considered perfectly normal and even admirable in a "bad boy" sort of way. However, John took it too far, resorting to rape and starvation of wives of political enemies, and this was one of numerous driving forces for the imposition of Magna Carta on him by his rebelling nobles. Ironically, by contemporary standards, at a national level John was a far better king than Richard (Henry at his best was better, but was too often not at his best, being too bent on conquest to bother to rule effectively what he already had). However, John was nonetheless personally a rather nasty man (to put it mildly), once again proving that the best men don't necessarily make the best rulers. His personal character and actions, more than his policies, drove his own nobles into nearly successful rebellion, resulting in Magna Carta, one of the great steps in English history.

Sorry for boring you silly with the history commentary - it's a period I've always found particularly interesting. You can wake up now; I'm finished.

Anyway, great movie in every sense - script, acting, score, cinematography, editing; it just doesn't get better than this.
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Magnificent cinematic medieval chess game, with every intricate move superbly thought out.
gbrumburgh1 March 2001
"The Lion in Winter" is a crowning achievement in cinematic story-telling. Adapted by Oscar-winning James Goldman from his witty, triumphant 1966 Broadway play that originally starred Robert Preston and Tony-winner Rosemary Harris, the story evolves around aging King Henry II mulling over a successor to the Plantagenet throne among his male progeny, while bringing his estranged, hateful clan together for the Christmas holidays.

Sparks really do fly in this wickedly elaborate chess game as the family player pieces weave thick webs of deceit and hatch insidious plots against each another, forming unholy, protean alliances that put those "Survivor" contestants to shame. The pure joy comes from seeing all of them try to outmaneuver each other with every new and different playing piece put on or taken off the board, hatching alternative schemes as fast as one can say "Long live the King!"

Robust, boisterous Peter O'Toole is a raging marvel as the battered but not yet beaten monarch, agonizing over the untrusting, Machiavellian-like brood he's sired, yet relishing the absolute power he holds and dangles over them. The glorious O'Toole is alternately barbarous and bombastic in one of the best roles of his career, and his loss of the Academy Award over, of all people, John Wayne, remains a travesty of justice.

The king's "brood" includes eldest son and heir-apparent, Richard (known as The Lion-hearted) whose fierce courage and burly warrior stance masquerades a forbidden tenderness detrimental to his standing as a king. Anthony Hopkins, in an auspicious screen debut, embodies these tortuous complexities within Richard perfectly, especially in his scenes as "mummy's favorite." The youngest and pruniest of the three princes is John, a rumpled, drooling, inane man-child impossibly spoiled as the King's favorite, played to pathetic amusement by a terrific Nigel Terry. Neglected middle son, Geoffrey, excellently portrayed with jaded, sliver-eyed cunning by John Castle, is a human blueprint of treachery and deceit. Resentful at being overlooked as even a possible contender, he's willing to sell his parents and brothers down the river for exact change.

Also invited to Christmas court is King Phillip II of France, on a revenge mission himself, who locks horns with Henry over lost lands and becomes a willing participant in these under-handed games. Timothy ("007") Dalton drips with smug, venal charm as the slender, softer, inexperienced king who can only battle Henry with words and wit, not weight. The only unblemished pawn here is Alais, the King's adoring young mistress, who is maliciously thrown to the lions by all as lady-in-waiting bait for the dueling princes. Demure, fragile Jane Merrow is the perfect choice for this innocent songbird with nothing and everything to lose

I have saved the best performance for last. As the King most duplicitous irritant, the inimitable Katharine Hepburn portrays Henry's duly banished Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine with all the unparalleled skill and inspired passion imaginable. Handed on a silver platter the lion's share of the best lines, Hepburn more than delivers the goods here, stealing the ripe proceedings from her talented co-stars. To watch her consummate Eleanor is to see the art of acting in its most passionate form. She is a revelation of perks and prods, of vibrant colors and shadings. She inhabits the passion, the power, the breeding, the deceitfulness, the desperate longing owed this character. Imprisonment (for inciting rebellions against her husband), has not dampened the fighting spirit nor dulled the sharp, calculating mind of this Queen. As in chess, this player is the game's most venturesome and versatile piece, and Hepburn more than lives up to its reputation, a worthy opponent with the best odds to check-mate her King. I have been known to say that the four-time Oscar winner was awarded for all the wrong movies -- excepting this one. She is unforgettable.

Topped with a glorious, inspiring, sometimes furious score (Oscar-winner John Barry), "The Lion in Winter" makes up for its stark, one-note surroundings with its bold, rich characters and ingenuous plotting. It is a hallmark of Gothic temperament and tone. As the old adage goes, "it's not who wins, it's how you play the game." 'Tis so true. So let the games begin!
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What Family Doesn't Have its Ups and Downs?
nycritic17 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This, by all means, should have been the film to do a clean sweep at the Oscars come 1969, but as fate would have it, only three wins, Best Actress, Writing from Another Medium, and Music. The storytelling is so simple yet so powerful and the acting is of such a high order that it seems timeless despite being a Historical Drama set in the 12th century.

Set on the course of one night, King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) has a family reunion to see who of his three sons will be his successor to the throne, although he has his eyes set on John (Nigel Terry), but his imprisoned wife, Queen Eleanor of Acquitaine (played to perfection by Katharine Hepburn) has other plans which involve her own favorite, Richard (Anthony Hopkins in his film debut). Matters get complicated when neglected son Geoffrey (John Castle) pretends to be on John's side to serve his own interests and when Eleanor encounters Henry's mistress Alais (Jane Merrow) and will not cede the Acquitaine to Henry. Into the mix is a revelation from newly appointed King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton) in which he states that Richard had raped him (when in fact they had had an affair). Floating above the overlapping intrigues is Henry, not quite able to decide just what will the course of action to take, and when he learns that his sons have been conspiring to overthrow him (thanks to Eleanor), he almost gets painted into a corner and makes an impossible decision.

This is a fascinating story, written so eloquently and performed so powerfully on-screen that one forgets this was originally a stage play with Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris in the leads. No sumptuous decorations; this, while being a family of noble extraction, they live devoid of the commodities that one would imagine coming from them. Of course, chemistry just overflows whenever Hepburn and O'Toole are together on-screen; it makes one think of the best matches in cinema history and is a shame they never worked together again as she was fond of him. If anything, they alone are the movie and never for a moment does one get bored even though the only "action" sequence is a scene where O'Toole drags Merrow to force her to marry Hopkins while Hepburn quietly monitors them. A beautiful film, timeless in its theme of family and inheritances, with shrewd performances, the best movie for 1968.
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More TRUE than a factual documentary could accomplish
mazonis7 December 2002
It's been eight years since I first saw this movie, and it is still my personal live-action gold standard (Lilo & Stitch being my animated film gold-standard). It combines drama, tragedy, razor-sharp comedy, great performances, and the best dialogue that has ever been spoken on film, period.

I found this movie quite by accident--I was a sixteen-year-old with a Katharine Hepburn fixation. She mesmerized me; I wanted to BE her--smart, beautiful, sexy, and unwilling and unable to take anything off of anybody (except for Spencer Tracy, but that's another story). Honestly, I had no idea that there really had been such a person as Eleanor until I saw this movie. After watching my heroine portray her, I was determined to find out, I have Katharine Hepburn to thank for my discovery of a new personal hero, and for my passion for medieval history.

It is true that this movie is not 100% factually accurate, not only because movie making dictates tinkering with history to create an interesting film, but also because, unfortunately, not too much is known about Eleanor herself. In the middle ages, women, even powerful, intriguing women like Eleanor, were not considered "important" enough to merit full biographical treatment. Most of Eleanor's history is recorded in the context of her sons and husbands. A good deal of this history was written by her detractors--people who disliked or disapproved of her for one reason or another. The simple explanation is that they felt that as a woman, she overstepped the bounds of what was considered "acceptable behavior" for a woman of the period.

That being said, this movie is 100% spiritually accurate. It perfectly captures the intrigue, the complexity of emotions and relationships, and tone of the age and the situation at hand. Though the sharp and witty dialogue is often considered a historical anachronism, this is not strictly true. Contrary to popular belief, people WERE educated in the middle ages, even women, if they were fortunate enough to be brought up in noble households, as Eleanor was. She was a brilliant woman, raised in a household where poetry and intelligent conversation were staples (her grandfather, after all, was one of the first troubadours). Henry was an intellectual powerhouse as well--he was a voracious reader who was often caught reading in church instead of paying attention to the sermons! It is unthinkable that these two minds would have produced stupid children, and the notion that the entire family should have only spoken in grunts and simple phrases is equally ludicrous.

Though not historically accurate, as other reviewers have noted, the strength of this movie lies in it's perfect portrayal of some of the most fascinating and complex personalities in recorded history. Henry, Eleanor, Richard, et al., make today's political and royal figures seem like low-rent bumbling hucksters.
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This film makes a great educational tool!
KidRalph27 October 2004
I am a high school history teacher, and I use this film to give students insight to the way Medieval kings, queens, and princes plotted and schemed with and against one another, how marriages were arranged with political motives, and how the relationships between these self-important royals shaped the history of the time. When I first introduced the films plot to my student, I was met with apathy and predisposed boredom, but they quickly were caught up in the intrigue and plot twists. At each major turn (an impromptu wedding, a surprise revelation about one of the character's sexuality, etc.), the students were often literally gasping.

As for the film itself, I can not think of a movie with more solid acting from the headliners (O'Toole and Hepburn) to the other principal players (Hopkins, Dalton, Terry, and especially Castle), and even the other characters are well cast (Merrow as Alais is not especially solid, but she is at least adequate in her portrayal as "the only pawn" in this game of kings, queens, and knights).

It is, of course, not to be seen as wholly accurate historically, as it would be near impossible to achieve such for events that took place 800 years ago, but the major themes are true to form, and the film is wonderfully engrossing. Highly recommended!
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Possibly the best dialogue ever written for a film... ever.
A-Ron-211 July 2000
I love this film. I love this film. I am not sure that I can say that phrase enough when describing this movie. Lion in Winter is quite simply one of the strangest and most beautiful movies that I have ever seen. It is some wierd amalgam of a 'home for the hollidays' type family drama, and Machiavellian political intrigue.

The essential plot is that it is 1183 and Henry II must declare his successor to the Plantagenet throne. He invites his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (played by Katherine Hepburn), who is in exile, and his sons to along with king of France, to Christmas dinner. Over the course of the evening truths are told and arguments are had, the film rolls over all of the conventions of the many genres that it plays with and turns them into something new and beautiful.

The film could have been written by Machiavelli himself, and often smacks of the Mandragola. The film demonstrates family disfunction within a very interesting, medieval paradigm. While the film is about issues such as family, loyalty and love, ultimately is most gratifying as a vehicle for O'Toole and Hepburn to chew the scenery and dig into a few truly juicy roles.

It is fantastic film that any lover of dialogue driven drama-comedy should rent and watch over and over again.
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Christmas in the Lion's Den
OttoVonB21 August 2006
King Henry gathers his three son, wife and mistress for the Christmas holidays. This allows the family not only to exchange gifts, but also a host of venomous insults and elaborate on their individual plots to gather status, remove opponents and move closer to the crown.

Based on a play - as most classic character and dialogue-centric movies tend to be - The Lion in Winter's main delight is in watching this vicious family in-fighting, chiefly the parents using their children as chess pawns in a deadly game. But who's playing whom? And when are they actually playing, and when they are, do they always know it? This is first-class writing of the highest order, and, very wisely, the director largely stays out of the way once his cast is tuned. Because as he and we all know, the first question most people ask when a film is mentioned is, "who's in it"?

The cast is a parade of titans on career-best form: Kathrine Hepburn often gets most of the credit for her smooth and calculating Queen Eleanor, but as the raging King Henry, Peter O'Toole is just as good, throwing tantrums and mood-swings, half of which are complete simulations designed to throw enemies off guard, like an aging Hamlet with more agency and the power to behead people. Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton throw in very worthy supporting turns as Prince Richard - the future Lionheart! - and Prince Philip of France respectively.

The Lion in Winter is a film of many pleasures that will appeal to a broad variety of viewers. If you like epic period films, it will compel you with its immersive atmosphere and feel of the world at large with its political intrigue. For the first time in cinematic history, you feel the filth, both physical and moral, of even these regal surroundings. If you like intimate films about human relations, it boasts the most toxic family dynamic this side of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. Even if you are just curious, it has a score of unforgettable one-liners you'll never forget.

This one deserves all the hype and then some!
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One King's Family: 1183
theowinthrop22 April 2006
It is very rare to find an actor who has played the same historical figure twice. Charleton Heston was Andrew Jackson in THE PRESIDENT'S LADY and THE BUCCANNEER (1958). Edward Arnold was Diamond Jim Brady in DIAMOND JIM and LILIAN RUSSELL. Reginald Owen was Louis XV in VOLTAIRE and MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE. Raymond Massey was John Brown in SANTA FE TRAIL and SEVEN ANGRY MEN. But only Peter O'Toole played the same historical figure in two major productions that were made only four years apart, and that showed the character seriously aging.

O'Toole had played King Henry II of England in BECKET (1964) as a young, vibrant monarch who makes the serious mistake of appointing his best friend to the one post that will make them enemies. The period that BECKET encompasses was roughly 1165 to 1171 (when Henry allowed himself to be whipped for the murder of Becket the year before - apparently at his orders). In THE LION IN WINTER (1968) he was King Henry some twelve years later. Henry is now the most powerful monarch in Western Europe, but he has problems of dynastic and political natures.

His power structure in 1183 is dependent on his hold of the marriage dower of his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. In BECKET, Pamela Brown played Eleanor as a sharp tongued and jealous woman who arranged the murder of her rival Gwendolen (Sian Phillips), on the night Henry was going to have sex with her. Henry (who hates the sight of blood) has a nervous collapse upon seeing the results of Eleanor's activities. In THE LION IN WINTER Eleanor was played by Katherine Hepburn. Now older, she is still a match in terms of political abilities to her husband. He has let her out of her castle prison to visit him and their three surviving sons (Richard, Geoffrey, and John) as well as Princess Alais of France and her brother King Phiip Augustus of France.

Henry's family get-together is not for holiday reasons (although it is occurring at Christmas). He has taken a dower from King Philip's father King Louis for Pincess Alais (Jane Merrow) to marry his oldest son Richard (Anthony Hopkins). But Alais has become the mistress of the monarch, who is considering divorcing Eleanor and starting a "proper" family with his second wife Alais. Richard and his two brothers (John Castle and Nigel Terry) are not happy with this prospect - nor with dynastic ambitions of each other. Of the three sons, Henry favors John (Terry) over Richard, although Richard is the better fighter. The reason is that Richard is the favorite of his mother, and has been implicated in some of her attempts to stir up civil war against Henry. Geoffrey (Castle) has brains but he is untrustworthy and finds that he is constantly dismissed by both parents. And King Philip (Timothy Dalton) is furious that due to the highhanded actions of Henry his father was reduced in power in Europe, and he is forced to report to a man who is technically his vassal due to the French lands that Henry controls.

THE LION IN WINTER had been a Broadway success in the middle 1960s, starring Robert Preston as Henry. The film is a successful transition, with the elderly monarch and his elderly consort tearing at each other in a kind of medieval WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. O'Toole is wonderful as the still intelligent, vigorous, and bullying monarch he was in BECKET, except now he is facing his own mortality. Hepburn (who won her third Oscar for this film - one year after winning her second for GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER and tying this time with Barbara Streisand for FUNNY GIRL) is able to display a woman capable of any political damage be it encouraging her sons to revolt or threatening future harm to Alais and any child she and Henry may have to torturing Henry with the suggestion that she (Eleanor) slept with Henry's father before they met.

Hopkins' hapless Richard is the most sympathetic of the three sons, with his humiliation when Philip maliciously reveals that Richard is a homosexual (the first time this trait was revealed in any film about Richard the Lion Hearted). Terry's John is properly "pimple faced" and immature on the surface, but showing when he betrays his father that two-faced ability that would lead to his disasters as King. Castle is properly sinister throughout - one realizes that both parents will not suggest him as heir because he'd kill them as soon as he could safely plan it out afterward. Dalton's Philip is galling to O'Toole, as he keeps showing that unlike his father he knows how to harm the British monarchy - by disgracing it's leading hero (Richard), and by simply waiting for time to take it's toll on his enemy Henry. And Merrow is the most sympathetic figure in the film, genuinely loving Henry but finding even he regards her as a dynastic pawn in the end. The movie was that rarity, a sequel as thoughtful and intelligent as the first film had been, and filling in the results of that first film's background and story very well indeed.
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THE film of 1968!
gerry-russell-13920 December 2002
What were those Academy fools thinking?! They ignore a powerhouse performance by Peter O'Toole and trounce Anthony Harvey's inspiring direction! But the final indignity was in giving the best picture award to an over-praised, undeserving, insignificant musical called OLIVER! If they had a least half a brain in their heads they could've given to FUNNY GIRL but they only shoot themselves in the foot when the deserving go unrecognized. It only goes to show the Academy's just jealous. The script and Kate's performance at least were given the royal treatment but it still leaves bitter resentment when Cliff Roberston, one of Hollywood's most less-than-adequate actors cops the best actor away from O'Toole... possibly Hollywood's most underrated, not to mention unrecognized actors of the highest caliber. Hepburn's Eleanor of Aquitaine had witty lines, quiet but still present anger and fire underneath the surface but O'Toole as Henry II gave the more powerful performance... an aesthetic that echoed Taylor and Burton for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? only Taylor was the gutsy performer and Burton doled out the cut-lows and the intellect. To coin a phrase from the British... "he (O'Toole) was bloody robbed!"

The story is set in Britain, 1183. Henry II is on the throne and has ten years earlier imprisoned his wife Eleanor of Acquitaine after co-conspirating a civil war against him. She and their three sons (Richard, the eldest, a brave warrior on the battlefield, whom Eleanor wants to succeed Henry as king; Geoffrey, the quietly vicious, unappreciated middle son of whom neither of them love with a plot for every occurrence and John, the piggish, dirty, thieving brat is their youngest whom Henry for some unknown reason wants on the throne) are all requested to appear at their palace of Chinon for the Christmas holidays. Also invited is young King Philip II of France whose elder sister Alais is the treasured and much-loved mistress to Henry. Philip wishes to have Alais mearried off to one of Henry's sons (preferably Richard) in order to form an alliance between England and France made between Henry and Philip's father, the late King Louis. But meanwhile, Philip is also plotting with all three boys and Eleanor to tear Henry's kingdom apart. Eleanor is merely in on it to get back at Henry for loving Alais (whom she had raised as a surrogate daughter) and the late Rosmund, an old rival of Eleanor's whom Henry replaced her with.

This film has it all: infidelity, betrayal, family dysfunction and a script that crackles with venom, wit and plot-twisting motivation. See it if only for O'Toole and Hepburn's first-rate performances.
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the lion is king of the jungle, and of England
Lee Eisenberg27 December 2005
Katharine Hepburn won her third Oscar for "The Lion in Winter", playing brassy queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her role is sort of an interesting counterbalance to Peter O'Toole, as King Henry II. That is, she's elderly and he's young. Maybe it was an allusion to the growing generation gap in the world at the time.

But anyway, this is what epic tales of royalty are supposed to be. It shows Henry's conflicts in wondering who will succeed him. Never dragging, the movie truly gives one the feeling of being with these people and understanding their lives. One of the most interesting scenes - in my opinion at least - is when Eleanor says something about sex. I usually wouldn't expect someone of Katharine Hepburn's generation mention sex in a movie. But she does a great job here (well duh). Also starring are a very young Anthony Hopkins and an even younger Timothy Dalton. All in all, "The Lion in Winter" is a perfect movie in every way, and affirmed 1968 as one of the best movie years ever, with "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Funny Girl", "The Odd Couple", "The Planet of the Apes", "Romeo and Juliet", "Candy", "The Night of the Living Dead" and "Bullitt".
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A Classic
MidniteRambler26 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Slight spoilers

Henry II is a twelfth century king of England, a powerful, energetic and spontaneous monarch who has conquered or otherwise acquired the rest of the British Isles and half of France. His wife, the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine, some years older, has led more than one civil war against him, more than once with one or other of their four sons. By 1183, Eleanor has been "dungeoned up" in Salisbury keep for ten years and their eldest son has died. At Christmas, Henry summons his wife and their three remaining sons - Richard, Geoffrey and John - to Chinon castle in central France. Along for the ride are Henry's mistress, the beautiful Alais, and her brother Phillip, the king of France.

Henry and Eleanor are played by Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn with tour-de-force acting that is second to none. They are ably supported by Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, John Castle, Jane Merrow and Nigel Terry.

The purpose of the gathering is to decide who will inherit the crown and which son gets which wife and what territory as a consolation. They bicker, backbite, squabble, carp, plot, coerce, cajole, bribe and threaten in equal measures. Who will be king? Who will marry Alais and get her brother as an ally? Who will get the Aquitaine?

A witty, rich and biting script and inspired characterisations by the two ferocious leads in a tale set in a vast medieval castle make this unmissable. O'Toole and Hepburn scrap and hiss and spit like alley cats whilst their sons and the French onlookers manouevere and circle cautiously around them, waiting to strike at the first hint of weakness.

But there are no weaknesses here. Not in the acting, which earned Hepburn an Oscar. Not in the script, which earned James Goldman an Oscar. Not in the soundtrack, which earned a third Oscar for John Barry. The film itself and O'Toole were also nominated. The Lion in Winter has been called a twelfth century soap opera, a Dallas of the medieval era. But this is wide of the mark. It is difficult imagining J R Ewing condemning his own sons with the eloquence of Henry II: "I, Henry, by grace of God, king of the English, lord of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, count of Anjou, Brittany, Poitou and Normandy, Maine, Gascony and Aquitaine, do sentence you to death. Done, this Christmas Day, at Chinon, in God's year eleven eighty three."

This is a classic film, essential to anybody interested in acting or writing or wanting a glimpse into the world of twelfth century politicking. Don't miss it.

Trivia notes. Richard, played here by Hopkins in his film debut, became King Richard the Lionheart (not "the Lionhearted") whom Robin Hood supposedly supported. John became King John of the same tales; and in reality was the King John who signed the Magna Carta in the early thirteenth century. Nigel Terry, who played John, went on to play King Arthur in Excalibur some years later. Henry II was the great-grandfather of Edward I, William Wallace's nemesis in Braveheart.
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Extraordinary battle of wits and verbal warfare between O'Toole and Hepburn
ma-cortes22 January 2008
This excellent costume drama with box office success is set in Christmas 1183 . The medieval monarch Henry II Plantagent (Peter O'Toole which played again in Becket) encounters surrounded by astute and mean relatives who wish ambitious rewards . The king pretends announce his heir and invites his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (awesome Katharine Hepburn which took her third , she is the only movie star to win four Academy Awards) imprisoned by conspiracy . Eleanor married first to Louis VII , King of France , and subsequently Eleanor's marriage to Henry II , King of England . There also comes their throughly dislikeable sons and king Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton , screen debut . Everybody confronts wits over succession to the British throne and much else , including a game of verbal chess . The heir election between three sons , Richard (Anthony Hopkins , screen debut) , Geoffrey (John Castle) and John (Nigel Terry's first film role) will cause intrigues , hateful , blackmail and psychological manipulation . In spite of possession a kingdom spread all England and great portion France , there's one thing that Henry never can to control, his rebel family .

This film is a rich pageant of fun for drama enthusiastic and history lovers . This is a magnificent film inspired on real events and writings by James Goldman adapted from his own play , which deservedly won an Oscar . Superb drama with top-notch performances , duo starring gives triumphant characterizations . Fantastic and evocative musical score fitting to medieval times by John Barry with Academy Award included . Sensational production design shot on location and with an impressive castle ; furthermore , an atmospheric cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth , reflecting splendidly Middle Age . The tale was marvellously directed by Anthony Harvey at his best film , but after this , he strayed into the critical , though not commercial hits . Remade recently for television in inferior version by Andrei Konchalovsky with Patrick Stewart (Henry II) and Glenn Close (Eleanor of Aquitaine).
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They Might Be Giants
citizen81321 December 2004
The great film critic, Pauline Kael, chastised Hepburn in this film version of James Goldman's historical cat fight for exploiting the audience's emotional connection to her; for playing on her frailty. Further proof, that artistry is in the eye of the beholder. Ironically, years later, Hepburn, according to biographer Scott Berg, would criticize Meryl Streep for being too mannered. Of course, neither are the worse for the wear. Hepburn actually emerges triumphant in her portrayal of Eleonor of Acquitane and not least of which because we know the woman behind the artist; and know her to be a royal survivor in her own right.

Other criticism that has dogged this work is that James Goldman's dark satire is muddied by the layer of emotion and even sentiment that the movie develops. But as with the film version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the enhanced emotional core of the story is a strong plus. To this end John Barry's forceful score lends great credibility as does Anthony Harvey's non stop strategic direction. Casting this powerful, writing this intelligent in the hands of a smart director makes this Lion unsurpassable to a stage production and certainly the unfortunate recent remake.
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Christmas With Henry And Eleanor Plantagenet
bkoganbing3 April 2007
It's Christmas 1183 at the Plantagenet castle in Chinon, France. Henry II is still in mourning for the death of his eldest son who would have been Henry III. He's not quite sure what to do about the succession. He's inviting his three surviving sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John and their mother, the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The nice thing about The Lion in Winter is that you don't need a knowledge of English history to help you follow the plot. It certainly helps, but the skill of the players and the great direction they get from Anthony Harvey makes this film understandable and universal.

Peter O'Toole is not crazy about all three of his sons. He's an older and wiser man than the young monarch we saw him play in Becket. He sees the weaknesses in all of them. Richard who is a pure warrior, more interested in battles and killing than ruling, Geoffrey who schemes with every breath, and John who's an amiable dunce of kid, manipulated by everyone. None inspire any confidence.

And then there's Eleanor a tough minded woman, liberated centuries before Germaine Greer, and played in a grand manner by Katharine Hepburn. Her dissolution of her marriage to Louis VII of France and her marriage with Henry II brought the large and rich Aquitaine province into the British auspices. She plays both the province and her sons in a never ending battle of wits with her husband as ruthlessly as any riverboat gambler.

Two pieces of historical fact must be noted. The realm of Henry II consisted of England and a great deal of northern France. Rule in his realm meant of a necessity that the king divide his time in both parts of his far flung empire. That's why the gathering is in Chinon in France which was under English rule.

The second fact is that the English king was also Duke of Normandy at that time and in that title owed allegiance to his sovereign the King of France who is played here by Timothy Dalton. But he's also a powerful monarch in his own right. The duality of those titles is a great deal of the reason for the conflict you see between Dalton and the entire Plantagenet family.

And Dalton plays the whole lot of them off against each other. As King Philip II Augustus, he is as important in French history as Henry II is in British. He's the son of the man that Henry stole Eleanor from by another queen and that fact is upper most in his mind.

There's no real story in The Lion in Winter. It's like a medieval Long Day's Journey into Night, a glimpse into the inner workings of a royal family. Long and deep on characterization as is the O'Neill classic. Still you'll be both entertained and informed watching it. Author James Goldman did his research well.

The sons are played by John Castle as Geoffrey, Nigel Terry, as John and Anthony Hopkins in the first film that brought him notice as Richard, later on Richard the Lion Hearted. This is a far more realistic Richard than had ever been shown before including his well known homosexuality.

The Lion in Winter won Katharine Hepburn her third Best Actress Award though she shared it with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. Peter O'Toole got his third nomination of eight for Best Actor losing to Cliff Robertson for Charly. That's one I've never understood. It's a great ensemble cast, everyone at his very best and not to be missed when broadcast.
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The two most powerful people in the world
batzi8m14 December 2004
I was just watching this again on PBS, maybe the 4th or 5th time I've seen this one. I've also seen the play performed and the TV remake. That last is also a worthwhile interpretation -- I even think Patrick Stewart did a better Henry. He showed more of the pure self possessed confidence and power. But Close and the other actors were not nearly as memorable as this cast, with the possible exception of unknown Soma Marko's completely vile moron John (he really shows us why he became the villain of the Robin Hood legends.) This 1968 cast included a brilliant young Anthony Hopkins as the deeply troubled Richard and a delightfully slimy Timothy Dalton as King Phillip of France.

But these are mere bit players opposite two of the greatest characters of their time. The second Welsh Plantagenet took one of the most beautiful, powerful and intellectual women of all from the King of France, (and some say his own father) It was one of the greatest love stories of all time between the two most dynamic individuals of their era. And this is what it's all about and what makes this play and this movie work. Each was really the only one the other could ever really love. Nobody else in their time even came close. And only a Hepburn could pull off Elenore of Aquitaine.

I still like Stewart's Henry better because he gave me more of the Henry we know from History as a completely fearless dynamic powerful King who could do and have

anything he wanted. Even though her youthful beauty had faded, Elenore as always the great love and the only woman who could ever have been his equal. So despite all the scheming, infidelity and dysfunctional family betrayal, those two will always be one of the great matches of history right next to Caesar and Cleopatra. That's what this play is all about and why this cast's rendition will aways remain a classic.
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A Chess Game in History!!
dataconflossmoor8 February 2008
When such a tremendous film which evokes the intense intellectual pontification of the London and New York Theatre world makes it's debut into the Hollywood cinema, it is truly amazing!! "Lion in Winter" is one of my favorite movies of all time!! Katherine Hepburn won for best actress in 1968 with this role!! Peter O'Toole who played Henry II, and Anthony Hopkins, who played Richard, are two of the finest actors in the history of the silver screen!! The year was 1183 A.D. a time of the barbarians, which meant it was an environment consisting of a potpourri of megalomania, dictatorial entitlement, and the visceral components of primary survival!! Everybody loathed everybody else!! A provision for heartfelt emotions was obviated by an enmity which focused on the ruthless gratification of the boorish hierarchy!! The passion for hatred was relentless in this movie!! In evaluating the plot keywords of this film, they were summed up as the battle of the sexes, and a dysfunctional marriage!! Suffice it to say, these were masterpieces of understatement!! A wife was reduced to the post of insensate chattel, and thus, she was relegated to the hedonistic wishes of the king, until, it was seemingly appropriate for the king to inflict his wife with dotage by decree!! Henry II's time was one where the only philosophical reality in people's lives was death. The line of logic being that if you bore them, you had the right to execute them as well... This blatant disregard for human life cultivated an abject misery for the precarious plights of everyone involved in the subjugation of the capricious royalty!! I found this film to be spectacular, as a writer, I can appreciate the monotonously challenging approach "Lion in Winter" took to articulating realism!! The dialog compounds the deplorable rancor to the prevailing circumstances during the barbarian era of HenryII!! This film is a somber depiction of ancient history, and history is history for better or worse!! No!! I do not have any perception of what it was like in England in the year 1183, however, the rudimentary despondence which was depicted in this movie is sufficient enough to purvey a frightful conception of a terrorizing, primate, and sub-humanoid callousness!! I would not have wanted to live during that era of uncivilized human history!! Believe Me!! Movies like "Lion in Winter" take on artistically dimensional endeavors that elevate the standards in theatrical and cinematic entertainment, thus, they should be rewarded for it!! FABULOUS FILM!!!FIVE STARS!!! A PERFECT TEN!!!
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Lesson Masters in performances, sharp and clever dialogue and a maze of passions.
psagray23 February 2015
Is a masterful interpretation of Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, who display great chemistry on screen, dodging rightly unpredictable attacks of a script, with its twists and turns, complicating the performance of both, forcing them to give shows many records, even in the same sequence. Among the supporting cast (where all do an excellent job), highlights the role of cynical and gloomy John Castle (Geoffrey), who despite being rejected by the other characters in the plot, manages to stay near them enough to play its cards in the race.

This film has an original treatment of life in the English court; away from stereotypical ideas based on the extravagance of monarchs, Harvey shows us a more realistic scenario of palace life in s. XII. That realism is accentuated in the character of the King (O'Toole), who does not need anything more than a beautiful coat and a crown, to leave a peasant's mind, and become the most powerful man on Earth.

Finally, it is an essential film for the huge script named above, which continually disturbs the viewer and plunges into a maze of strategies, betrayal, resentment, passions and memories, developed with the structure of the best chess games.
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Kind of a Medieval "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"
blanche-223 February 2008
Peter O'Toole is Henry II, a true "Lion in Winter" in this 1968 film version of the play by James Goldman and also starring Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, Nigel Terry, Jane Merrow and John Castle. On Broadway, the roles of Henry and Eleanor were played by Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris. The casting director for the Broadway production commented that the original auditions, before Preston and Harris injected the spice and humor into the dialogue, were heavy going, the delivery of the actors very, very serious. Imagine this movie with no spark, no sarcasm, no wry humor injected into the lines, and you've got yourself a real nightmare.

Fortunately, it's not the case. Though the story takes dramatic license with the truth - for instance, there was no Christmas gathering of the actual family in 1183, but there was in 1182 - the depiction of the family's infighting, considering how everything turned out, is probably quite correct. King Henry II wants to name his successor and brings his family together. This includes his imprisoned wife, Eleanor of Quitaine (Hepburn), his mistress, Princess Alais (Merrow), and his three sons - Richard (Hopkins), Geoffrey (Castle) and John (Terry), and Alais' brother, King Philip of France (Dalton). Everybody makes deals they don't intend to make good, promises they don't plan to keep, and alliances they don't want in order to secure the throne either, in the sons' cases, for themselves, or in Eleanor and Henry's cases, for someone else.

To say that Henry and Eleanor have a volatile relationship is a tremendous understatement, and the dialogue is an incredible roller-coaster ride that's never boring. One wonders if an audience would sit through such a film today. If not, it's a pity, because it's so brilliant. Watching O'Toole and Hepburn sparring - sometimes so cruelly and bitterly that it's devastating - is addictive. You can't turn away from it. Hepburn shows us immediately by subtle actions - a quick expression that's just as quickly covered up, a slight hesitation in movement or speech - that no matter what her words say, she worships Henry still. For Henry, she is the most challenging and exciting woman he has ever known - and because of the volatility of their relationship, they can't survive together. Talk about being able to push each other's buttons - with Henry, it's whether or not Eleanor slept with his father; with Eleanor, it's his desire to marry Alais and divorce her.

O'Toole takes the title of the film literally, and he indeed roars like an old lion. A powerful and overt actor, Henry II, which he played twice, is one of his greatest roles and this performance perhaps his best. Handsome, sexy, angry and wild, he holds the screen magnificently. For me this is Hepburn's best role. Her Eleanor is beautiful, dignified, sensitive and determined, easily wounded by Henry, though she tries not to show it.

Henry II lived another 6 years, during which time Eleanor remained imprisoned by him, although she enjoyed more freedom and actually occasionally traveled with Henry. Henry was succeeded by Richard and then, because Richard had no heirs, by John. Eleanor spent her last years as a nun and, no surprise, outlived all of her children except for King John and Queen Leonora. Both Henry and Eleanor will live forever in "The Lion in Winter." Imagine a movie with such superstars that Anthony Hopkins has a supporting role - thus was the case in 1968 when the young Hopkins played Richard, a closet homosexual who has had an affair with Philip of France. ("Oh, Richard," Eleanor says as she sends him to make a deal with Philip, "promise him ANYTHING.") History is quite divided over whether or not Richard was actually gay, but some writings definitely indicate that he was. Hopkins is brilliant as a tough and even cruel man who has a very sensitive side that can be gotten to by his mother. The rest of the acting is uniformly excellent.

One of the greatest scripts with one of the greatest casts of all time
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Gall in the Family
wes-connors30 May 2009
In order to select an heir, medieval English king Peter O'Toole (as Henry II) arranges a Christmas family reunion. The guest of honor is estranged queen Katherine Hepburn (as Eleanor of Aquitaine), whom Mr. O'Toole has kept in prison for the past decade. In competition for the throne are the conniving couple's three sons: Anthony Hopkins (as Richard), John Castle (as Geoffrey), and Nigel Terry (as John). Their "extended" family includes handsome French king Timothy Dalton (as Philip II), who was once Mr. Hopkins' sexual plaything; and lovely young Jane Merrow (as Alais), who is both Mr. O'Toole's current mistress and Mr. Dalton's sister.

After one of the best scenes of her career, Ms. Hepburn asks, "What family doesn't have its ups and downs?" Hepburn's performance is marvelous. A Connecticut Yankee in King Henry's court, she nevertheless takes total possession of the role. Watching Anthony Harvey direct Hepburn and her six fellow thespians through James Goldman's script is what makes the otherwise tiresome, overdone subject matter come alive. "The Lion in Winter" cast is formidable, with O'Toole and Dalton (his first appearance) making kingly impressions. The music, by John Barry, is another obvious strength. And, they did it all without having to credit William Shakespeare.

********* The Lion in Winter (10/30/68) Anthony Harvey, James Goldman ~ Katherine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Timothy Dalton, Anthony Hopkins
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"I Could Peel You Like a Pear and God Himself Would Call it Justice!"
Scott Amundsen10 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
THE LION IN WINTER is a fierce, personal, and extraordinarily powerful film that boasts great acting, the best script since ALL ABOUT EVE, and enough intrigue and plotting crammed into one royal family Christmas to fill three James Bond thrillers.

Christmas, 1183. The royal palace at Chinon in France, then under English rule. Henry II is pondering his choice of successor to the throne; at fifty, he is older than most men he knows and he senses time passing too quickly.

The death of Henry's eldest son and namesake has left the throne up for grabs between his three remaining sons: Richard, the great warrior later to be known as Lion-Heart; Geoffrey, cold, methodical, and deeply resentful of his place in the middle of the pack, but more than smart enough to make the most of any advantage that should arise; and John, clumsy and appearing half-witted at times despite the fact that as he says, he speaks several languages and has studied law.

Eleanor wants the throne for Richard, her favorite. Henry resents Eleanor's affection for Richard and has settled on John primarily because he is all there is; neither parent seems to trust the conniving and sneaky Geoffrey which sort of puts him out of the running. Maybe.

Also at the scene is Alais, the French princess betrothed to Richard but at the moment sharing Henry's bed, and her brother, the young Phillip II of France.

Unlike most historical dramas, this one is not picture-pretty and filled with classical actors declaiming flowery speeches; these people hiss, growl, bellow, and curse at each other shamelessly, all the while pursuing their own agendas.

The whole cast is brilliant, but O'Toole and Hepburn are positively mesmerizing. O'Toole, playing fifty at age thirty-six, and Hepburn, twenty-five years his senior (the age gap between the characters is somewhat narrower) but every inch his match, engage in a no-holds-barred, all-out free-for-all in which no punches are pulled and no words are left unsaid. This is possibly the most dysfunctional family ever put on film, but for all the rancor and conflict, they still act like a family in the film's handful of quiet moments.

This is one of those movies that has to be experienced. It is also the sort of film that rewards multiple viewings.

A first-class job. And while I loved the musical OLIVER!, I really think TLIW should have won Best picture.
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Entertaining and humorous battle of the sexes in the Middle Ages
robb_7724 May 2006
Costume dramas were all the rage in the sixties after the mammoth success of director David Lean's 1962 epic LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and Anthony Harvey's THE LION IN WINTER is a notable entry in this sub-genre. Nominally based on the fight over Henry II's throne (although the film does naturally play around with the facts), the film introduces all of it's main characters and then wastes no time before letting the deception and wordplay begin. What makes the film special is the tone and manner in which the characters converse with one another. Unlike many other costume dramas, THE LION IN WINTER remembers that people of the 1100s probably weren't all that different from people today - and that they fight, ridicule, and swipe delicious barbs at each other just like we do in contemporary times.

In hopes of really sealing the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA connection even further, we have Peter O'Toole in a sly and broad performance as Henry II, and while is certainly not subtle, he also never descends into ham-handedness either. Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, and Nigel Terry are memorable as Henry's three sons, as are Jane Merrow and a young Timothy Dalton as Henry's mistress and her brother - all of whom claim they have a right to some portion the throne. What really knocks the film up a notch into being a great film, however, is the fantastic, Oscar-winning performance of Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor. Full of vigor and unapologetically mean-spirited, Hepburn's Eleanor is more than a match for O'Toole's pompous King, and the dissolution of marriage has seldom been more entertaining than it is when these two go head to head in battle.
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An Amazing Film
ashowen19 August 2005
This film is one of the great cinematic achievements of the 20th Century. Katharine Hepburn's performance is brilliant, not to mention hilarious in some parts. She captures the personality of Eleanor of Aquitaine perfectly, and creates a smart, yet dysfunctional chemistry with Peter O'Toole that is captivating. Anthony Hopkins' role as the young Richard the Lion-Hearted brings the jealousy and rage of the throne to this film. Also, the performances of John Castle and Nigel Terry are very good. The role played by Castle, Geoffrey, is witty and almost sarcastic in many ways. Terry's role as John is very good portrayal of the historical John I of England being whiny and insecure. The enchantment of royalty and the jealousy of a family feud make this film one to be treasured.
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One of the Most Overrated Movies Ever Made
alexkolokotronis2 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
After watching Becket I thought I was in for another classic. But it turned out to be on of the biggest flops I have ever seen. Unlike Becket the dialogue was filled up with imaterial and seemed to repeat itself. For example throughout the movie it seems that O'toole and Hepburn are in engaged in a major argument when suddenly it turns around into a love scene. I can recall of this happening at least 5 times throughout the movie. A second aspect to the dialogue was the relationships. The brothers were all forming alliances with each other King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and King Philip of France. At one point of the movie I had no idea who was supporting who. For example there is a scene were all three brothers are conversing with King Philip, but each time one walks in the other starts to hide. Even King Henry the II walks in and suddnely it turns into a huge argument. Even in the ending provides no resolve to the movie when suddenly Eleanor of Aquitane and King Henry II resolve their relationship. I have no idea how this movie could win an Oscar for best screenplay.

Another disappointing part of the movie was the acting. The brothers other than Richard (Anthony Hopkins) seemed to be out of character and did not show enough expression. King Philip (Timothy Dalton) seemed to be over the top. But that I could with stand. The performance that disappointed me the most was Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine (especially after winning an Oscar for it). She seemed to struggle with her British accent. She also was very much over the top and wasn't very convincing as a Queen. She was a serious mis-cast. The two acting performances that held this movie together was Peter O'toole as King Henry II (who probably deserved the Oscar) who probably played better than he did in Becket because he was required to and Anthony Hopkins as Richard who played vet good as the son with a true desire of becoming king. Other than these two great performances, this great story was turned into a inconclusive and enigmatic spectacle.
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A Glorious Royal Feud
evanston_dad31 January 2007
After "A Man for All Seasons," "The Lion in Winter" is perhaps the best costume drama that came out of the 1960s, a decade rife with them.

Peter O'Toole dons the garb of King Henry II for the second time in four years (see "Becket") and commands the screen as ably as he always did. It's not a command he's allowed to take for granted though, because he has the life force of Katharine Hepburn playing his strong-willed wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry summons her from prison, and calls together also his sons, to decide the fate of his throne. The battle of wills and words that follows is juicy stuff, and you can tell O'Toole and Hepburn are having a divine time trading barbs and playing this eccentric couple, who hate each other even as they adore one another. It's a very unique treatment of material that would otherwise just be one more story about royal intrigue and dirty dealings.

With a very young Anthony Hopkins as Richard III, providing us with a preview of the very fine actor he would become in his own right.

Grade: A
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A history lesson with vicious dialogue.
groatski18 October 2005
My reaction after seeing this movie the first time was pure disgust. With the exception of Alais, a naïve little girl just looking for someone to take care of her, every one of them were vicious, selfish, conniving bastards, alternately weeping and screaming with rage. I've since seen it about 20 times and, although my opinion of the characters hasn't changed, my opinion of the movie has.

The story portrayed is, actually, somewhat historically accurate. In 1183 King Henry II's oldest son dies, and now the crown is up for grabs between his three remaining sons. A Christmas court is held to decide the successor. Henry summons his wife, Queen Elanor (who's been languishing in prison for several years), his sons, and the young King of France. Let the games begin!.

The plot does not move in a straight line. Throughout the movie the characters plot, counterplot, make phony alliances, and emotionally manipulate one another in an effort to gain better footing at the expense of someone else. And through it all King Henry (who is holding all the cards) takes sadistic joy in dangling carrots in front of them and gleefully jerking them away. And Alais, poor Alais, desperately looking for a shred of human decency to cling to, gets batted around like a cheap whore.

And the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. Sharp and steady as a scalpel, and just as deeply cutting. And it was everywhere, all the time. Nobody was safe. It was easily this movie's strongest feature.

My advice: see it. If you hated it, see it again. It will grow on you.
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