It's Christmas 1183, and King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is planning to announce his successor to the throne. The jockeying for the crown, though, is complex. Henry has three sons and wants his boy Prince John (Nigel Terry) to take over. Henry's wife, Queen Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), has other ideas. She believes their son Prince Richard (Sir Anthony Hopkins) should be King. As the family and various schemers gather for the holiday, each tries to make the indecisive King choose his or her option.Written by
Narrating the Turner Classic Movies' filler on Katharine Hepburn, Sir Anthony Hopkins recalled how Hepburn took him under her wing, advising him: "Don't act. Just speak the lines." He found it to be great advice. See more »
Henry says to Eleanor: "Sleep, and dream of me with croutons. Henry, à la mode." The word "crouton" dates from the 17th century. The phrase "à la mode" dates from the 15th century. See more »
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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