It’s 1183 and King Henry II of England wants his youngest son, Prince John, to inherit his throne. His estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine favours their older son, Richard – he of Lionhearted fame. Eleanor is in prison for plotting to overthrow the King. One of Henry’s illegitimate sons, Geoffrey, is busy fermenting his own plots. Philip of France is attempting to forge an alliance by offering up his half-sister, Alais, to his ex-lover, Richard. Alais also happens to be Henry’s mistress. Think Game Of Thrones, only without the voyeuristic torture and casual sexual violence.
Peter O’Toole as Henry and Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor are at the height of their powers as the dulling duo. The script is witty, sly, and occasionally downright vicious. The supporting cast, including Anthony Hopkins (Richard) and Timothy Dalton (Philip) are a joy watch as the battle royal unfolds.
In 1968, Lion In Winter was one of the year’s biggest box office successes, winning Oscars for Hepburn, screenwriter James Goldman, and John Barry’s epic score. Adapted from Goldman’s own Broadway play, it’s theatrical origins are still very apparent and this is perhaps one of the film’s greatest weakness. While it’s beautifully filmed with glorious cinematography from Douglas Slocombe (Indiana Jones), the three-act set up flounders in the middle leaving the audience in desperate need of an interval pick-me-up. The dialogue is creaky too, although O’Toole and Hepburn pull it off as only seasoned pros can.
Lion In Winter may be getting a little long in the teeth but this beast still has plenty of roar.