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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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1183, the fifty years old King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) summons his
wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) that is imprisoned
in Salisbury; and his sons Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John
Castle) and his favorite John (Nigel Terry) to spend the Christmas with
the seventeen years old King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton) and his
sister and Henri's mistress Alais (Jane Merrow). Henry intends to name
the stupid John his successor to marry Alais and keep her dowry with
his family; however Richard is the favorite of Eleanor. Along the
holiday, the ambitious brothers and the Machiavellian Eleanor plot
treachery schemes against the smart and unstable Henry to take his
empire from him.
"The Lion in Winter" is a theatrical movie about a fictional reunion of a Machiavellian and dysfunctional family of snakes for Christmas to discuss the succession in the throne of England. The witty and wicked dialogs and screenplay are impressive and a perfect vehicle to unforgettable performances, highlighting the duel between Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. Each nomination and win awarded by this movie is really deserved. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil)): "O Leão no Inverno" ("The Lion in the Winter")
This was the most talked about film of 1968. It is the story of an aging Henry II and his efforts to divide his kingdom at the time of his death. He has his queen, Eleanor of Acquitain, locked up in a castle and has released her to help him sort things out. He has three sons, one a petulant little man, full of fire and anxiety; the second, a man with a persecution complex who feels he is the odd man out; and the third, Richard the Lion Hearted, a warrior (who is exposed as a homosexual). This is a movie where the dialogue is fast and furious. Henry has a mistress and she becomes a pawn in this game. He tries to hand the kingdom over to a couple sons, but the conditions they place on his choice cause him to change his mind. Enter the French ruler who is furious that Henry is exerting power that he has no right to, in his opinion. The byplay between the Queen and Henry is marvelous; there is no one who can spar verbally better than Hepburn. There is a kind of dance that goes on. This is the very soul of dysfunction. I had never seen this in its day. It is a marvelous portrayal of the failings of a family. And an actual love story, as strange as that sounds.
I have noticed criticisms of this movie online. Its silliness. There are those who do not understand its brilliance, and there are those who must find fault with anything special to feel good about themselves. That is rather pitiful, isn't it? Watch the movie. The tour de force acting by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole is a joy to watch. Anthony Hopkins is incredible, and its his first movie role. Clearly, he had "it". He commands the screen, to the point one cannot look away. The rest of the cast is also wonderful, except Jane Merrow as Alais. Sadly, she is way out of her league. On the other hand, watching the contrast between Merrow and the others only serves to prove their superior skills, and make watching them even more delightful. When these brilliant actors deliver their zinger lines, its pure delight. The Lion in Winter is in my top ten movie list.
The Lion in Winter, based on James Goldman's play about treachery in
the family of King Henry II, is an intense, fierce, personal drama,
directed with evident pleasure by Anthony Harvey.
Cataloging the vicious wrangling for inheritance one Christmas holiday, the action is mostly contained within one day. The all-powerful Henry II (Peter O'Toole), summons his politically ambitious family to a reunion in 1183, when a decision on succession is deemed advisable. This includes his exiled, embittered and imprisoned wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn), and three legitimate male offspring, along with his mistress and her brother, youthful king Philip of France. King Henry II schemes against the mother of his children, Eleanor to try to get his favorite son, a sniveling slack-jaw John (Nigel Terry), appointed as his successor while Eleanor hopes to position her favorite, the soldier genius Richard (Anthony Hopkins), as the heir apparent. Meanwhile, middle child, the reserved and quiet Geoffrey (John Castle) hopes to play them all against one another and come out victorious as the future king. The members of this tempestuous family jockey for position and brutally squabble among each other, rekindling every injury suffered and adding new, Homeric insults to their already bruised reputations.
In one day, the seven characters are stripped bare of all inner torments, outward pretensions and governing personality traits. Goldman blends in his absorbing screenplay elements of love, hate, frustration, fulfillment, ambition and greed. The relationships between people, though ambivalent, are ambivalent with a certain satisfying ferocity. Director Anthony Harvey's knowledge of the craft aids him in keeping the tension high and never letting the audience settle for long on an outcome in the constant feud, with twists, turns and plenty of incredible backstabbing.
Even though Terry, Castle and especially Hopkins are all at the top of their craft, this film is all about the thorny and turbulent relationship between Henry and Eleanor, whom he's had imprisoned to keep her from meddling with his empire. A marvelously flamboyant Peter O'Toole plays the revolting king to the hilt and holds his own against Katherine Hepburn in a witty, literate, and inventive script. Hepburn is simply magnificent as the scheming and shrewd Eleanor of Aquitaine. There is something about an actress with this degree of presence and a wholly distinct, pleasant and idiosyncratic voice that gets her through even misplaced weepy or extravagant scenes. Her verbal duels with the equally impressive O'Toole are spellbinding. Both play their scenes with great passion, vigor and expertise. Right from the first scene, they both show a wonderful relish for even the most mundane sarcastic line.
Despite feeling a bit stage-bound, The Lion in Winter is every bit as engrossing and watchable. It's a nuanced, gorgeous film that keeps you riveted right from the word go.
The Lion in Winter is about the games that people high up in power tend
to play with each other when they can, but it's also about parents,
their children and how a woman has to act in such a society. This movie
is rich with a lot of ideas and concepts, and yet it mostly comes down
to the acting - people not exactly of the small-time variety like Peter
O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn as the King of England and Eleanor of
Aquataine (in other words, the Queen, or once was), and featuring
supporting roles for the likes of Anthony Hopkins (his first film,
really) and Timothy Dalton. Does a lot of this get stagy? Oh, very much
so. It can be a drawback, or maybe just the "Showiness" in quotation
marks. I use quotes since that's what other people say, and I do too.
But is this necessarily a bad thing? No, but the feeling that this was
a play and brought to the screen by its author is never left.
This is all essentially a familial drama with political implications at a lot of turns: the King has to choose his heir, as he is fifty years old and seemingly won't live that much longer (perhaps for the time, the 12th century, it was quite old, albeit Eleanor is supposed to be 61). Who will he choose: super strong but emotionally wounded Richard, the middle-child with his own scheming Phillip, or the lovable but weak-willed and odd John? If he really could have his way he'd want to choose all of them - and, as one might see, the question could arise that none of them is an option - but a lot of these games are complicated by other factors, such as of course Eleanor, the mother of his children and a prisoner for her own scheming over the years; the King of France (Dalton) who is often referred to as "boy", and the king's sister cum mistress for Henry, and a to-be-betrothed to one of the sons (Jane Merrow, underrated among the cast, she's really good here).
In other words, there's some wackiness that ensues, of the sometimes dark, melodramatic and brooding kind. But what I found most interesting were what was behind so much of the drama, what these characters carry with them and continue to do so, some of them as they are facing death sooner someday than others. With Eleanor of Aquataine, this is a character who has had power taken away from her, she really doesn't have anything, and yet she can - or really has to - cut Henry down every chance she can to keep up to his level. She really is a vulnerable character deep down, when she can show it, though when that is exactly is anyone's guess. Like many plays (or the ones that I've seen and heard over the years), the games that people play on each other - think Virginia Woolf, for instance - is what is supposed to make it riveting for the audience. Who is going to plot what next? How will all of this drama (verging on soap opera) unfold?
Maybe all of this is soap opera. There were certainly times, like when the sons are hiding not totally comically in Dalton's bedchamber when Henry comes in to have a talk, that the staginess of it can't be helped. But what stuck out for me and what made me like the movie so much is that the director Anthony Harvey and writer Goldman takes this material as seriously as they can, and mostly as this family drama first. Again, one may think of Game of Thrones as well (this could just as easily be the Lannister clan, fans of the show will know what I mean). And yet in order for this stuff to work, the actors do have to sell it and not hold back; if one is to do this sort of high-voltage, highly emotionally charged stuff right, get some people who will commit to it completely.
Peter O'Toole gives what could be one of his two or three best performances here. That's a bold statement considering what other work he did in his career, but really when has he been better? Yes, this King has to yell and pontificate in GRAND, BIG ways (in caps) in many scenes. But a lot of this, we are in the know on, is braggadocio, like a much more refined version of Archie Bunker or Ralph Kramden. And yes, a sitcom comparison could be made here, only the laughs had aren't shallow or base: these characters really can't stand one another - that, and, in one of those contradictions people have to keep in their heads one alongside the other, they love each other still. That's what's fascinating about watching O'Toole and Hepburn (in a role far more Oscar-y than 'Dinner' in 67). If you don't buy them as a bitter, wry, deeply wounded married couple, the movie actually doesn't work as well. I bought into them, and many of their scenes carry that electrified air of big, bold dramatic moments, especially in the last act when big claims are made about past familial ties.
I don't know if it's all a great film. Some of the dramatic confrontations here get into that realm of such theatricality that it's hard to take a few times, just in that way of 'Oh, for chrissake, just kill each other and get it over with already!' But it has such a strong script and acting, and the themes of being a woman in that period and what a marriage was in such medieval times, or being a father and sons, that I had a great time watching it. By the end one senses not much has *really* changed for these people, but then why should it? Life goes on, until it doesn't, for these people of royalty and obsessive power
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Certainly well mounted but is it really much more than a soap opera circa 1150? Katherine Hepburn is Eleanor of Acquitaine, released from jail by husband Henry II (Peter O'Toole) for Christmas. Their power struggle to name an heir to the throne goes on for two hours plus with witty one- liners thrown out like Molotov cocktails. The two leads, along with Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow, John Castle, and Nigel Terry, act up a storm reciting James Goldman's acid tinged dialog with a lot of gusto. One is left, however, with a feeling of emptiness as this movie drones on and on. It's exhausting. The direction (which consists primarily of having a camera follow the players around) is by Anthony Harvey and the production values are all first rate from the cinematography by Douglas Slocombe to the faux-regal score by John Barry. This movie one many awards including the Oscar for its screenplay.
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