The Lion in Winter (1968)

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Director: Anthony Harvey

Writer: James Goldman (play & screenplay)

Cast: Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow, John Castle

Synopsis: Barbed tongues wound to the quick in this James Goldman screenplay about England's King Henry II (1133-1189) and his dysfunctional family. Peter O'Toole dominates the film with his forceful portrayal of the legendary Henry. As ruler of a vast Anglo-Norman kingdom, the 50-year-old monarch holds sway over all that he sees -- except his wife and three sons.

At Christmas, the family gathers in Chinon, France, as Henry considers who will inherit the crown. He favors John (Nigel Terry). His estranged wife and queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), favors Richard (Anthony Hopkins). His third son, Geoffrey (John Castle), bitter that no one has championed his cause, schemes for the leavings of power. O'Toole gives one of his finest performances, spitting volleys of sarcasm and mockery at his wife and sons. Hepburn as the queen, returns insult for insult while also acknowledging that embers of love for Henry -- whose mistress abides nearby -- continue to burn. Meanwhile, the sons plot against Henry and each other.

Metaphors of elegant quality season the dialogue throughout the film, allowing the actors to wring brilliance from their tongues. Credit writer Goldman, who adapted the script from his own play, for this achievement. During the film, the choral music of John Barry sets an appropriately ominous mood. And director Anthony Harvey occasionally mixes in action sequences, featuring poised lances and gleaming daggers, to pick up the pace. The costumes, the gloomy castle, and the clip-clop of snorting steeds, all accent the period ambience, but in the end it is the wonderful acting -- in particular O'Toole's and Hepburn's -- that carries the day and makes The Lion in Winter a masterpiece worth viewing again and again.


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