The Lion in Winter is quite a film. Unsympathetic characters and English monarchs are far from big draws for me but this one has Katharine Hepburn in it. As a bonus, there’s Peter O’Toole and Anthony Hopkins. This is, in fact, Hopkins’ film début… and he’s got hair – quite a lot of it. Growing up, The Remains of the Day was my favourite film and I thought Hopkins was about the best actor I’d yet seen. None of this would matter much if the cast wasn’t on song. They are, with fine performances from John Castle and Timothy Dalton as well. So, sit down for over two hours of wall-to-wall acting.
Plotting. That’s what it’s all about. King Henry II (O’Toole) hasn’t appointed an heir and among the most prominent wanting to influence him are his three living sons, his wife and the king of France. None of them are very nice. Henry has had his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn) locked up for the past ten years. She’s been imprisoned because of her ceaseless plots against him. Prince Richard (Hopkins) cares for little other than war and is determined to be king. He’s not much like the noble regent from the tales of Robin Hood. Prince Geoffrey (Castle) is so calculating and devious that even the king and queen seem repulsed by him. Prince John (Terry) is the baddie from Robin Hood, but as the youngest he’s the comic relief this time around. Philippe II of France (Dalton) is young, ambitious, capable and wants his country back from the English. When the rule of a king is absolute, the existence of rivals to the throne simply can’t be allowed. Needless to say, they all scheme at a professional level.
It’s all entirely fictitious, but perhaps the politics of king making and of life and death aren’t always this entertaining in real life. While the happenings don’t always make sense, they’re really more of an opportunity for each and every cast member to heap on the drama until it’s teetering ridiculously, gloriously above all else. It’s something that demands to be seen. Go watch it!