Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Lion In Winter (1968)

I Bet You Thought That 
Your Family Squabbles Were bad....

- It is Christmas time in 1183 and, becoming an old man, King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is starting to think hard about who will succeed him as King. Not exactly a small, easy decision to begin with, Henry's choice brings together quite the ensemble dysfunctional family at the royal family's Christmas Court that makes the Royal Succession process at least five times more difficult....

Henry's wild cat temper is stretched to the limit and his dangerous wit is put to the test by his sharp and sly wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), his war-hardened son Richard (Anthony Hopkins), his devious son Geoffrey (John Castle), his dumb son John (Nigel Terry) and his opportunistic stepson Philip King of France (Timothy Dalton). Henry wants John to be King, Eleanor wants Richard to be King, John wants to be King, Richard wants to be King (and will stop at nothing to be so), Geoffrey wants anything that betters his situation and Philip wants whatever hurts Henry the most (on top of wanting his sister to be either married to one of the sons or have her dowry returned). Needless to say, things turn ugly around the royal Christmas punch bowl and this family holiday fight throws people into dungeons, initiates wars and affects the entire country.

And you thought your family squabbles were bad....

The Lion In Winter (1968) is a very well done not-so-historical historical drama. Nominated for seven Oscars (winning three of them), you can bet that very corner of the film is top-notch. The costumes and sets are well put together, the direction is very effective, the dialogue is bright and shocking and John Barry's score is particularly brilliant - one of his finest efforts.

Of course, while just about everything in the film is excellent, The Lion In Winter is known best for its superb cast. Every member of the cast is really just unforgettable. Katherine Hepburn is especially great, winning an Oscar for a stunning portrayal of Eleanor, but O'Toole also could not be better as King Henry. The smallest names on the marquee - Castle and Terry - do fine supporting work but Hopkins and Dalton are particularly memorable, soaring to great heights in their motion picture debuts.

An excellent film, though not holding up as well after repeat viewings (the film relies just a bit too much on the surprise found at the end of each scene - something that disappears on the second viewing), The Lion In Winter is a very well-crafted period character drama.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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