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This famous screen adaptation of James Goldman's play is mostly
remembered for Katharine Hepburn's historic third win of Oscar's BEST
LEADING ACTRESS in 1969 (yet she would further cement her unrivalled
record with her fourth win for ON GOLDEN POND, 1981, 8/10), most
interestingly, it is the one and only case where it is a tie for
leading actress, she shares the honour with Barbara Streisand in FUNNY
GIRL (1968). Directed by Anthony Harvey with Goldman as the
screenwriter, headlined by O'Toole and Hepburn, well, contrary to my
expectation, it comes out as a rather enervating and mind-numbing non-
So it all happens during Christmas 1183, King Henry II of England (O'Toole), convenes Queen Eleanor (Hepburn), whom he has imprisoned for months in a castle, and their three sons, Richard (Hopkins), Geoffrey (Castle) and John (Terry) to Chinon, Anjou for a family reunion and to discuss the issue of heir-ship, with King Philip II of France (Dalton) as their guest, and also presented is Alais (Merrow), Henry's mistress and Philip's sister, who is betrothed to Richard. That being so, it forges a cobweb of stakes around them while all the three princes contend to be crowned the future king, Richard is championed by Eleanor and John is Henry's favourite, while Geoffrey has his own calculations.
Yet all the relations cannot be simply divided by love or hate, being a sterling dramaturge, Goldman maps out an intricate love-and-hate struggle between almost any two random characters, at first, it is relishing to enjoy these top players mount their mélange of feelings through their eloquent oration and wordplay, but being a different art form from a dialogue- driven play confined in a simple locale, the film version tries to duplicate the same pathos using the same method, soon the narrative steers towards excesses, there is no time for audience to ruminate the bombard of colloquies, in the next scene, the same power struggle/psychological game repeats itself between other characters, at the end of day, after all the labouring bickering, the status quo remains unseated, from choosing the right heir, to threatening of dethroning Eleanor from the title, to the extreme of murdering all his sons for the sake of marrying Alais and they can start life anew, the script is overwhelmingly rich for its 134 minutes running time, nonetheless the final upshot proves all above is merely lip service, no exciting changeover presented, all we know is for medieval people, their mouth never match their heart, it is a rather exhausting anticlimax and doesn't sharpen the process of character building.
Hardly one can blame it on the cast, all is busting their asses to construct the atmosphere of dramatic intensity, even for Hopkins, Dalton and Terry (who just passed away earlier this year at a quite young age of 69), in their screen debut. Hopkins possesses a wide-eyed earnestness which is very rare in his staple phenotypes. Dalton is fiercely wet behind the ears in front of Hepburn and O'Toole, alas their undercurrent of homosexuality only superficially touched on. Terry is deliberately grotesque, Castle preserves a distinctive but untapped inscrutability and the Golden Globe nominated Merrow cannot remotely match two top-billers' expertise. Hepburn's magnificent spirit is perpetually something to shout about, so is O'Toole's frenzied outbursts, for whom we all have a soft spot considering his ill-fated Oscar journey (8 nominations with zero win), alas, neither her nor him can hold the top spot in my book for this lines-laden period elaboration.
Reckoning its higher rating elsewhere and an extolled reputation, this is another specimen where a dissonance existing between one's personal view and the accepted general opinion, being a non-radical and rational film reviewer, not so often this occurs to me, so although being slightly disappointed, personally I feel delightful to retain one's own differences once in a while.
It is a film of stunning performances, delightful jugglery of words (thanks to playwright John Goldman) and a very deserving Oscar-winning musical score of John Barry. It also marked the debut of Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton (a former James Bond). The problems of the film lie elsewhere--anachronisms in spoken words of the play. Syphilis was not known in 1183 AD, at least by that name. Queen Eleanor's son could not have "seen" her "pictures" when she was young. The boats shown in the film are too sophisticated in engineering for 1183 AD. And there is no blood in the entire film with so many killings with swords and knives, And why did director Anthony Harvey have to show the statues with chipped noses and ears in the opening credits? But the film is amazing despite all its flaws. And O'Toole deserved the Oscar he was denied in this film.
I hadn't seen this movie in years. Once I started watching it, though -
just before the crucial scene in Philip's room - I couldn't stop.
There's one great scene after the next, where I just sat marveling at
the way the actors delivered their lines.
After awhile, I realized how much this resembled "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" in Medieval costume. Family members ripping each other's guts out every chance they get, often by tearing the scabs off old wounds. The language is more "noble," of course, and the lines delivered in a more oratorical, theatrical fashion, but it's still pretty much the same thing, with O'Toole - who is really marvelous in this movie - for Burton and Hepburn for Taylor.
This isn't the sort of movie I would want to watch often, I confess. But it was certainly a great pleasure to see it again today.
1183 AD: King Henry II (Peter O'Toole)'s three sons all want to inherit
the throne, but he will not commit to a choice. They and his wife
(Katharine Hepburn) variously plot to force him.
The best part of this film? When John says, "You stink. You're a stinker and you stink." Hilarious. The worst part? Katharine Hepburn. Although she plays a very good Eleanor of Aquitaine, and really gets into the conniving of the character (much more than Glenn Close in the remake), she still has that annoying quality that only Hepburn had.
Luckily, Peter O'Toole and the supporting cast shine and make up for any shortfalls there might be. A true classic of the historical royal genre (or whatever the proper term is).
Interesting but slow, overwrought and overshouted.
This movie covers a reasonably interesting period of history: the reign of Henry II of England and the potential succession of one of his sons. However, what should be a relatively simple exercise is turned into an overly complex exercise in Machiavellian manipulation, lies and deceit. Nothing is simple, and just when you think an issue is resolved, it unravels.
Initially all this politics is intriguing, but it wears thin fairly quickly. It soon resembles intrigue and politics for the sake of it, and serves only to pad the movie.
The ending is also quite lacklustre and anticlimactic after all the twists that went before.
Powerful performance by Peter O'Toole in the lead role. Too powerful, in that almost all his dialogue is shouted. It gets quite irritating, quite quickly. In fact his whole performance seemed a touch too over-the-top.
Solid effort by Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine. The performance got her a Best Actress Oscar.
Interesting also to see Anthony Hopkins in an early-career role: this was his second big-screen movie.
Even more fresh-faced was Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France. This was Dalton's big screen debut.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anthony Harvey directs "The Lion in Winter". The plot? It is 1183, and
King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) has assembled his wife (Katharine
Hepburn) and sons at his French estate. The King hopes to appoint his
youngest son successor, but his family have other plans. What unfolds
is a game of stealth and strategy, our large cast of royals, each a
Machiavellian monster, plotting to cross, double cross and even kill,
all in the name of titles and property. Based on a play by James
Goldman, this is politics as schoolyard bickering, our Kings, princes
and Queens as ignoble and idiotic as crybabies and bullies.
"The Lion in Winter" is shapeless, overly proud of its wit, and poorly structured. It is at its best when it acknowledges the comedic absurdity of its premise ("What family doesn't have its ups and downs?") and when a young Timothy Dalton is on screen. He plays King Philip II, a serpentine man whose burning hatred stems from both Henry and Henry's eldest son, Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins). Both father and son are a couple of rapists, sodomizers and brutes, with Phillip being just one of their many victims.
But it is Henry's imprisoned queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), who's given the film's best lines. In a long monologue she explains that her family, indeed the whole feudal system, is the cause of all the hate, violence and ugliness in the world. Moment's later she looks in a mirror and praises her own beauty.
7.9/10 See Kurosawa's "Ran" for this material handled as good as its ever been. See too "Becket" (1964), also with Peter O'Toole as King Henry II.
There are few actors who made a bigger impact on film than the likes of
Peter O'toole and Katharine Hepburn. When you get the chance to see
them both grace the screen together, you have to take it. Both of them
have very memorable scenes and give legendary performances.
Unfortunately the film as a whole isn't their best, but the dialogue
and performances are enough of a reason to give this film a look.
They play king and queen, but in reality they are very far from being a happily married royal couple. Throw in Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton, who launched their career with their roles and you get a cinema classic. Hepburn plays an emotionally unstable queen who always seems to have something new up her sleeve. Not only does she plan against King Henry, but convinces her sons to do the same. Its refreshing to see Hepburn in a role other than her earlier roles where she simply throws herself at every man. In this movie, you don't want to mess with her, she threatens with words but the look on her face just shouts power. She shares some of the most memorable scenes, in particular with Henry.
But the craziest and must gut wrenching scene involves Henry, his three sons, and King Philip. The film suffers a bit by not having any fast moving scenes. The finale does deliver on the thrill of how much these people would do for power. Its quite ridiculous to think that people in this time period would put their family and closest friends in danger to secure royalty. But there are still times that the sons feel a bit comical. Anthony Hopkins is good but the other sons don't feel like real people. Doesn't take away from the tremendous lead performances in what is a pretty good film.
+Hepburn and O'Toole give legendary performances
+dialogue and script is top notch
-sometimes comical characters
-long running time
King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) learns the lesson of King Lear refusing
to divide his kingdom in three for his three sons. He wants to leave it
to his youngest John (Nigel Terry) and have him marry his mistress
Alais. His estranged wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine
Hepburn) is imprisoned wants the oldest Richard the Lionheart (Anthony
Hopkins) to take over. During Christmas 1183, King Henry II calls
together all the players including King Philip II of France (Timothy
Dalton) as everybody schemes to take the throne.
The great actors are showing their skills in this movie adapted from the play. The historical drama has been fictionalized. The acting is strong especially Katharine Hepburn. There isn't a weak performance except maybe Jane Merrow as Alais. However her character is nothing but a pawn. The production is fair. The camera work doesn't take full advantage. The scale looks smaller than the movie needs. There are a few too many long distant shots by director Anthony Harvey. If there is truly a weak spot in the film, the visual style comes closest. There is a reasonable number of people there, but the movie just doesn't look it. And it's hard to root for anybody in this movie which makes it harder to watch.
Having watched this powerful film many times, I am ever more amazed at Peter O'Toole's performance. I was not a fan of his generally speaking but his acting is so spectacular that I am drawn to him and awed by the force of his on screen presence. I AM a huge fan of Katharine Hepburn and loved the performance in this film as a calculating, strong, deep woman who has a will as strong and passionate as any performance she has ever given. The supporting cast is brilliant, especially Nigel Terry who plays so convincing a role as to make one chuckle at the pathetic figure he plays. Moreover, the writing in this film is so laced with brilliant lines that it is impossible to watch and not be spellbound by their illumination at dysfunction in powerful characters. It is startling when it makes me think of the many I have seen around! A magical piece of cinematic history.
i first saw this film when it first came out. i was 16 at the time and
found it moving. the movie wonderful and one of my favorites. i have
since watched it over, and over again. i never seem to tire of the
witty dialogue, cinematography, music, and outstanding performances by
henry wants an heir. he and Eleanor disagree on who it will be, and trouble begins.
Katherine Hepburn and peter o'toole have the roles of their lives. they work very well together in this story of romance and betrayal.
John Ccastle's acting is the best of the brothers. he is slimy and conniving. ready to sell out one brother for the other for his own gain.
Nigel terry is boorish and piggish as young john. he does a great job as a troubled prince.
Richard is portrayed by a well performed newcomer, Anthony Hopkins. he shines in his role.
Katherine Hepburn won an Oscar for her role manipulator Eleanor, the imprisoned queen.
why peter o'toole didn't win an Oscar is a mystery to many fans. i like john Wayne, but his acting chops cannot compare with o'tooles remarkable performance. he was robbed! this should have won best picture, but sadly did not.
the story is both witty and tragic.
never a dull moment. i am surprised some thought it boring. not the case.
watch it for the story and performance. i don't think you'll be disappointed.
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