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  Lion in Winter, The My Kingdom For A King
Year: 1967
Director: Anthony Harvey
Stars: Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow, Nigel Stock, Kenneth Ives, O.Z. Whitehead, Fran Stafford, Ella More, Kenneth Griffith, Henry Woolf, Karol Hagar, David Griffith
Genre: Comedy, Drama, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The year is 1183 A.D. and at his castle in Chinon King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is planning Christmas with the family. That is more complicated than most families, for the woman he loves is French princess Alais (Jane Merrow), who is not his wife but lives with him as if she is; his actual wife is Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) who he has imprisoned these last ten years or so when he lost interest in her and her plotting was not something he was willing to put up with any longer. They have three surviving sons together, Richard (Anthony Hopkins), the eldest, Geoffrey (John Castle), and John (Nigel Terry), the youngest, and each want one thing: to succeed him as King...

At the 1968 Oscars the buzz around The Lion in Winter was impressive: surely the top two acting awards were going to O'Toole and Hepburn? On the big night, as it turned out, Hepburn won in a tie with Barbra Streisand (for Funny Girl), though win she did, but for her leading man there was unexpected disappointment as Cliff Robertson had put in such Herculean self-promotion for Charly that he walked away with the prize. Never mind, everbody thought, he was Peter O'Toole, one of the greatest stage and screen actors of his generation, he will have plenty more opportunities to pick up the gong. That he did, nominated many more times - but he never did win.

Thus the film he starred in here was regarded as probably the best chance he ever had for Oscar glory, and it was something you had the impression he was regretful that he did not succeed even if he had a Lifetime Achievement bestowed on him nearer the end of his career. For Hepburn, on the other hand, it was her third of a record four Leading Actress wins, and if there was any double act who could be said to have lifted their performances in perfect complement it was the King and Queen in this, relishing the comedy and tragedy in James Goldman's screenplay, based on his hit play. The dialogue veered close to cod-Shakespearean in places, only with a modern twist, but it was highly entertaining to hear spoken by two such consummate thespians.

However, not everyone has been quite as enamoured with Goldman's writings as there was the suspicion about American authors when they tackle European history which dogged the reception, somehow reasoning that having not been steeped in the milieu from birth that the best they could muster was a clever facsimile of the period they were working in. It was true some of the lines sounded a little clunky, but such was the breezy style O'Toole and Hepburn brought to the table that you could tell they were relishing what in basic terms would be described as a royal soap opera with comedy asides, and that did not make the characters' anguish any the less authentic, even if Goldman had taken liberties with the facts as historians knew them (and were wont to point out).

Really this was National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for culture vultures, a family brought together for the festive season to put on a show of respect but actually seething with resentment at not being able to get their own way thanks to the others standing in their path. Henry wants to see the petulant, vindictive John as his successor, and plans to let him marry Alais to see to it his kingdom is secured long after Henry dies, but Richard, who is ruler of Aquitaine, has other ideas, and as the strongest and most bullish he seems the best choice - if only he didn't have a decidedly illegal (at the time) secret he's hiding (it's amusing to note Hopkins based his Hannibal Lecter performance on Hepburn's schemer here, two Academy Award winners). As for the snakelike Geoffrey, we can tell he would be a cruel tyrant, which makes it all the more alarming when he gets his nose in front amidst the haranguing machinations that make up much of the plot, one which has no real resolution but nonetheless has offered an at times heavy going, but always diverting acting masterclass - John Barry's score excelled too.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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