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UK 1968
Directed by
Anthony Harvey
132 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Lion In Winter

Peter O'Toole does what he does best, chew the scenery, in this dysfunctional family historical drama.

It's Christmas 1183 and King Henry II (O'Toole) feeling the advancing years (he was 50, which was quite old for those days) is planning to announce his successor. He has three sons: his youngest, Prince John (Nigel Terry), is his favourite but a nincompoop; his eldest Prince Richard (Anthony Hopkins, making his film debut), a career soldier, is backed by his mother, Henry's wife Queen Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn) whom Henry has let out of prison for the day; whilst his middle son, Geoffrey (John Castle), is scheming with King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton) to carve up Henry's kingdom with the English domains in France, including Aquitaine, which was once Eleanor’s, reverting to France.

Following on the heels of the hugely successful A Man for All Seasons (1966) James Goldman’s adaptation of his own play delves into the dynastic history of England, in this case a period 250 earlier. Compared to Robert Bolt’s more considered  essay on the importance of intellectual freedom, his work is closer to Shakespearean high drama with much sound and fury.

Enter Peter O’Toole blustering and bawling with Katherine Hepburn in close pursuit carving up whatever scenery he has left in his wake, as the film runs through a series of encounters in which the players cross and double-cross each other, barely pausing to apologize as they are exposed and then come up with another devilish alliance. It’s hard and quite tiring work to keep abreast of who’s getting into bed with who (with the literal exception of Jane Merrow, the only weakness in the top row of players, as Henry’s mistress, Alais) but Goldman’s well-turned albeit rather too noticeably modernized dialogue (an example being Eleanor picking herself up after unsuccessfully stopping Henry from storming out of the room and saying, almost to the camera, “Every family has its ups and downs”) keeps us engaged. It is however O'Toole who carries the day, bearded with his lean frame swathed in voluminous animal pelts suggesting a man twice his bulk and, most importantly, capturing our idea of a medieval king.

John Barry’s Oscar-winning score is somewhat too anachronistic and I couldn’t help but wish that Elizabeth Taylor had been in the role that won the too-old-for-the-part Hepburn the Best Actress Oscar.  James Goldman won an Oscar for his script.

FYI: Director Anthony Harvey's main claim to fame was as an editor with many classics to his credit including Dr Strangelove (1964) and The L-Shaped Room (1962),




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