Saturday Matinee – The Lion in Winter

We’re back to Katharine Hepburn.  🙂    The Lion in Winter – the 1968 film, not the remake – based on a successful Broadway play by James Goldman. It was directed by Anthony Harvey from Goldman’s adaptation of his own play.  A wonderful, intelligent, witty film, with outstanding performances. 

The plot has many twists and turns.  It is set during Christmas 1183.   King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) keeps his wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn) locked in the Salisbury Tower at Windsor Castle, and only lets her out of her prison for the official occasions where the Queen must be present.   Henry wants his son Prince John to inherit his throne, while Eleanor wants their son Prince Richard the Lionheart. The middle, unfavoured son Geoffrey schemes and pits everyone else against each other.  Meanwhile, King Philip II of France, the son of Louis VII of France, Eleanor’s ex-husband, has given his half-sister Alais, who is currently Henry’s mistress, to the future heir, and demands either the wedding or the return of her dowry.    (Following so far?)

Everyone has an agenda, the King and Queen, the three Princes, the visiting King of France, and they battle it out verbally, emotionally, physically, meeting all over the castle at all hours of the day and night, plotting strategy, exploding, threatening, throwing others into the dungeon, hiding from sight.   

One of the earlier scenes, with Henry and Eleanor sparring:

Eleanor’s first meeting with her son Richard, played by Anthony Hopkins in his film debut:

The meeting of the Kings, Henry and Philip (played by Timothy Dalton in his film debut):

Following her defeat in one of the battles, Eleanor is (temporarily) in despair.  The monologue is one of her most outstanding performances:

Eleanor with all three of her sons – and an observation of humanity:

The Lion in Winter is fictional: there was no Christmas court at Chinon in 1183; although there was a Christmas court at Caen in 1182. None of the dialogue and action is historical, though the outcomes of the characters and the background are historically accurate.  Richard later became king from 1189-1199, John succeeded him from 1199-1216.  Geoffrey never held the throne. 

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won three.  Critics were sad that Hepburn had won Best Actress the year before (for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?), since they felt she deserved it even more this time and it was very rare that anyone won two years in a row.  But win it she did, in an even rarer tie with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl.  The composer John Barry, who passed away last week, won for Best Score. Goldman won for Best Adapted Screenplay. 

(There was a remake, made for TV, in 2003.  Although Glenn Close won great acclaim for her role, I haven’t seen it.) 

One of my all-time favourite films.


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