The Lion in Winter
James Goldman (Play: James Goldman)
Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow, Nigel Stock, Kenneth Ives, O.Z. Whitehead
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From video games to English political intrigue, The Lion in Winter may be the most diametrically opposed feature to Scott Pilgrim you could imagine. However, loving one does not preclude loving the other. Cataloging the vicious wrangling for inheritance one Christmas holiday, a talented group of thespians bring to the screen a fascinating period in history where King Henry II (an astonishingly good Peter O’Toole) schemes against the mother of his children, Eleanor of Aquitaine (an equally impressive Katharine Hepburn), to try to get his favorite son, John (Nigel Terry), appointed as his successor while Eleanor hopes to position her favorite, Richard (Anthony Hopkins), as the heir apparent. Meanwhile, middle child Geoffrey (John Castle) hopes to play them all against one another and come out victorious as the future king.
Even though Terry, Castle and especially Hopkins are all at the top of their craft, this film is all about the thorny and tempestuous relationship between Henry and Eleanor, whom he’s had imprisoned for a number of years and would for many more (sixteen in total). O’Toole and Hepburn play their scenes with great passion, vigor and expertise. Anyone hoping to become an actor would be well rewarded by studying these two performances. That O’Toole couldn’t pick up an Oscar for this role was one of his many Oscar injustices, especially when Hepburn took her third trophy with this film (in a shocking tie with up-and-comer Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl).
The film itself, despite feeling a bit stage-bound (James Goldman adapted his own play to the screen), is every bit as engrossing and watchable. It’s a nuanced, gorgeous film that keeps you riveted to the screen. Director Anthony Harvey may have had a more successful film as an editor, but his knowledge of that craft more than aided him in keeping tension high and never letting the audience settle for long on an outcome in the constant feud, with twists, turns and plenty of incredible backstabbing.
September 13, 2010