The Lion in Winter (1968) is a grand film. Who else than Katharine Hepburn could have matched Peter O’Toole in this battle of ideas? It is the year 1183 and Christmas is coming. King Henry II of England (Peter O’Toole) is having a Christmas court at Chinon Castle. Just months before, his eldest son, Henry, had died in an accident, and now the king has to choose a new hire, one of his three remaining sons, Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins in his big screen debut role), John or Geoffrey. He invites his wife, Eleanore of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), whom he lets out of prison for the occasion. Philip of France (Timothy Dalton) is also a guest, and he wants to know when his sister, who has become Henry’s mistress, will be married to the hire to the throne.
We discover a complicated intrigue that is unleashed along with memorable performances. Peter O’Toole is a force of nature and Katharine is magnificent, the way they viciously confront each other trying to out-scheme one another and are still capable of tender words, which proves the deep love that still remains between them, is a joy to watch. What is also worth mentioning is to see a play scrip so aptly handled. I was afraid of a theatrical dialogue, or that the sets would give the impression of a stage play. None of that is the case. It looks very much real, and what is more important, it looks real for the middle ages, when interiors were austere, when kings still walked the muddy courtyards, and when their clothes actually looked lived in. The Lion in Winter is witty, sharp and intelligently played, it’s one of the best.
photo: still from the film, captured by me from this DVD edition | credit: AVCO Embassy