Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"The Lion In Winter"

Lion In Winter
Image credit: Barnes and Noble
"The Lion in Winter" is one of my very favorite movies. I love period movies and costume dramas that take the viewer to a different time and place. The time is Christmas, 1168 AD/CE and the place is Medieval France in Chinon Castle (Chateau de Chinon), southwest of Paris. The movie portrays a wonderfully dysfunctional family. If you like acerbic wit of Maggie Smith, Dowager Countess of Grantham, on Downton Abbey you'll love this movie. There are zingers in almost every scene.

Originally a stage play, the move is over two hours long (134 minutes). I did not want it to end. James Goldman wrote both play and the adapted screenplay. He won an Academy Award for his efforts. The movie was released in 1968 and the long hair of Medieval times fit the Swinging 60's perfectly.

The Story

The story is about a family Christmas reunion. Need I say more? Family reunions haven't changed much since 1183 AD/CE. The movie is full of plots, alliances made and broken, and a lot of sex in many interesting and unexpected pairings. Take the time to watch Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole chew the scenery and chew out each other. The following exchange takes place when Henry II and Eleanor first greet each other:

Eleanor: "How dear of you to let me out of prison."

Henry II: "It's only for the holidays."

Henry and Eleanor

All of the actors are just superb. Katherine Hepburn plays Eleanor of Aquitaine, both very formidable women. It was her first movie after the death of her long time love, Spencer Tracy. She won her third Oscar for this role and deservedly so. Miss Hepburn is not the prim and proper New Englander that she played so many times. As Eleanor of Aquitaine, she is bawdy, earthy, and very outspoken. Here's a line that surprised me, spoken while Eleanor is admiring a necklace she's holding in front of her:

Eleanor: [to her jewelry] "I'd hang you from the n*****s, but you'd shock the children."

Peter O'Toole appears to be having a rollicking good time as Henry II. He must have because this is the second movie in which he portrayed this king, the first time being in 1964 in "Becket" with Richard Burton. Henry II charges around the castle bellowing orders and berating his sons. Alais, his mistress, is an active participant in all the chaos, much to the chagrin of his wife, Eleanor. He wants to annul his marriage and marry Alais resulting in the following exchange:

Henry II: "Well I'm off."

Eleanor: "To Rome?"

Henry II: "That's where they keep the Pope!"

"The Lion in Winter" Trailer

Sibling Rivalry at Its Best

I can't forget their three sons. All provide perfect birth order portrayals, which makes me glad to be an only child. Anthony Hopkins portrays the eldest son Richard otherwise known as Richard the Lionhearted. It's hard to believe that this was his first major screen roll and I can see Hannibal Lecter already. Richard I was openly homosexual and this aspect is portrayed in the movie. I find this interesting because the law against homosexuality had been repealed in England just the year before, in 1967. Remember that the movie was released in 1968 and homosexuality was not commonly portrayed or discussed in the media at that time. At any rate, I never watched any Robin Hood movie the same way again.

John Castle plays Geoffrey and is the ideal example of middle child. He's always observing and commenting on the shenanigans of his parents and brothers. Then there is this comment:

Prince Geoffrey: "No one ever thinks of crown and mentions Geoff, why is that?"

Nigel Terry is wonderful as the Prince John, referred to as "Johnny". He's the future king of England for heaven's sake. He's the baby of the family and Henry wants John to inherit the throne. John proudly proclaims "Father loves me best." Mr. Terry went on to play King Arthur in "Excalibur".

Though not a son of Henry and Eleanor, Timothy Dalton rates a special mention as King Phillip II of France. He is wonderfully sleazy and smarmy as the lover of Richard. James Bond he was not in this movie. Phillip appears to be a bit dim:

Henry II: "The Vexin's mine."

Phillip II: "By what authority?"

Henry II: "It's got my troops all over it; that makes it mine."

Music, Director and Costumes

John Barry won an Academy Award for the musical score of “The Lion in Winter.” He also won Oscars for “Born Free,” “Dances with Wolves,” and “Out of Africa.” Mr. Barry may be best known for his work in the majority of James Bond films. He composed the iconic song “Goldfinger,” sung by Shirley Bassey.

The director, Anthony Harvey, was nominated for but did not win the Academy Award for “The Lion in Winter.” He directed Katherine Hepburn a second time in the 1973 TV movie of “The Glass Menagerie.” Mr. Harvey’s editorial credits include “Lolita”-1962, “Dr. Strangelove”-1964, and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”-1965 among others.

"Love Among the Ruins"

Margaret Furse was also nominated for but did not win the Academy Award for costume design. She also designed the costumer for the Katherine Hepburn TV movie “Love Among the Ruins.” The hat and feather boa seem to have a life of their own in this clip. Ms. Furse has a great feel for period costumes. She won an Oscar for “Anne of the Thousand Days.” Her work on “Becket” and “Mary, Queen of Scots” also garnered Academy Award nominations.
Historical Background

Henry II was even more energetic and determined than Peter O’Toole. Matilda, his mother, had been named as the heir to Henry I, his grandfather. She would have been the first queen of England but was usurped by her cousin, Stephen. Henry II invaded England and Stephen designated him as heir. Henry became king at the age of 21. He ruled England with his chancellor and friend, Thomas Becket. Henry elevated Becket to Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Becket supported the church over the king and the two became enemies. Becket was later assassinated. During this time, Henry married the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was powerful and wealthy in her own right, as heiress to the Aquitane. The Aquitaine is located in southwestern France and stretches from the Loire River on the east to the Pyrenees Mountains on the west. She had married Louis VII of France and had gone on the Second Crusade with him. However, Eleanor bore two daughters but no sons and the marriage was annulled. She quickly married Henry II and bore five of the requisite sons and three more daughters. After her sons were grown, Eleanor led a rebellion against Henry to regain the Aquitaine but lost. He imprisoned her until his death. Freed by her son Richard, Eleanor became Regent when Richard went off on the Third Crusade. When Richard was kidnapped by Duke of Austria, Eleanor raised the ransom, went to Austria and brought him back to England. Unusual for her time, she lived well into her eighties and died at monastery at Fontevrault in Anjou in 1204.

Wedding of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine
Wedding of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine

A Last Word from Katherine Hepburn

I'll conclude with my favorite quote of entire movie:

Eleanor: "What would you have me do? Give out? Give up? Give in?"

Henry II: "Give me a little peace."

Eleanor: "A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now there's a thought."

About the Movie
Available for download on iTunes for $14.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $10.49
Run time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Released in 1968 by 20th Century Fox