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THE LION IN WINTER (1968)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow, and Nigel Terry
Directed by Anthony Harvey
Nominated for seven Academy Awards:
Best Director, Anthony Harvey
Best Actress, Katharine Hepburn (win)
Best Actor, Peter O'Toole
Best Adapted Screenplay, James Goldman (win)
Best Costume Design
Best Original Score, (win)
Peter O'Toole, at one point during the film says, When my life is written about, it will read better then it had lived. He was right on the ball with that statement. THE LION IN WINTER opened in 1968 to glowing reviews and audience favor, who went to see it in droves and made it one of the years most successful films. It starred Katharine Hepburn, with this her third movie during the 60's and showed that not appearing in many films during a long duration of time certainly doesn't have to affect your career (and the movie didn't come at a better time, being that she just came off of the box-office success GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINER, which garnished her an Oscar). Peter O'Toole, at this time at the very peak of his career, returned to the role of King Henry II (he also played the younger King Henry II four years earlier in BECKET), and led him to his third of seven Oscar nominations. The story was written by James Goldman (adapting his own play), and weaves together a stylish and sharp story of sweet revenge and double crossing all played out, in what better fashion, during a family gathering during the Christmas season.
King Henry II (O'Toole), gathers his family together to celebrate the holidays. His wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), has been kept in isolation in an elegant castle away from his empire so she wouldn't involve herself in his business. Their three sons are also along for the ride, with eldest son Prince Richard the Lion-Hearted (Anthony Hopkins), middle son Prince Geoffrey (John Castle), and the whining baby of the family, Prince John (Nigel Terry), all coming together where sibling rivalries dominate their time together. The true reason Henry has calls this colorful bunch of folks together is that he is planning on announcing his successor. Eleanor favors Richard, but Richard despises her and the entire kingdom that fate has put him in. Henry favors young John who is his favorite son, despite the boy being an obnoxious moron who, if hit in the head with a rock, wouldn't realize it until the following day. Of course the middle son Geoffrey isn't to happy that he is rarely discussed to be the successor, despite all signs suggest he would be the most suitable for the job. Once everyone's stand point is made perfectly clear, a war of words and mind games ensue as each play a masterful game of chess with each other, using clever maneuvering and maniacal scheming to get what they want. When some shocking revelations come up concerning some members of the family, the game changes, and does so as time goes on.
To describe the dialogue would be virtually impossible, for the script is one of the wittiest and most enjoyable things that Hollywood has ever produced. Jerry Goldman's dialogue is intelligent and aware of itself, and is filled with an enormous amount if wit and satire. People may watch the movie to closely observe if the film is historically accurate, but they are robbing themselves of a unique experience. The film is driven by the characters and all else plays second fiddle. People should watch the movie as a sort of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? set in the twelfth century.
The performances are like nothing you will ever see, with Hepburn delivering that is without a doubt her most commanding performance. She is equaled without hesitation by a gripping O'Toole, and their scenes together sizzles with intensity, humor and, most importantly, deception. Though all the key players do extraordinary jobs, they are always at their best when they are in Hepburn and O'Toole's presence as the sparks fly thanks to the brilliant dialogue (and again, it's the dialogue that makes the movie what it is).
The film deals with everything, from politics to infidelity. From betrayal to tainted honesty. Pure hatred and twisted and conniving love. It is essentially one big soap opera, but everything falls together without flaw and the story so engaging that it's the words which draw us into these people's lives and absurd situations. It all plays out and we are obliged to engage in what we are seeing because the movie has its own seducing charms (much like Hepburn in the film).
Hepburn would win her third Oscar for her performance, and it remains her most deserved. Composer John Barry won an Oscar for his majestic score (he would also win an Oscar for OUT OF AFRICA, and worked on several James Bond films), and writer James Goldman also won an Oscar. Director Anthony Harvey helps firmly orchestrate this mad house and does a taut job at that. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys some great dialogue. Certainly a mini-classic, and when it all ends, you can't help but smile during the final scene.
My Grade: A