There’s a tradition in my house and in my younger brother’s as well. At some point, at least one point, during the holiday season, we watch The Lion in Winter (1968) — Christmas, 1183, at home in Chinon with Henry I, Eleanor of the Aquitaine, their three sons — Richard, Geoffrey, & John — Philip, the young French king, and Henry’s mistress, Alais, a French princess who’s lived with them since she was 7 and is betrothed to the heir to the throne — if they can just decide who the heir’s to be. Their eldest son, Henry died the year before. Henry wants their youngest, John, to be his heir, while Eleanor wants the throne and bride for Richard, who ought to be next in line.
From the opening strains of John Barry‘s majestic music, the iconic gargoyles, through the plotting and backstabbing (not literally), the acerbic wit delivered by Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), the queen who’s led so many rebellions Henry (Peter O’Toole) keeps her prisoner in one of his castles, this is a movie that entertains on so many levels that it never loses its charm.
Eleanor holds the Aquitaine — a valuable and strategic land that everyone wants. Henry’s troops are all over it, so he says it’s his. Eleanor has promised it to Richard (Anthony Hopkins). It was part of Alais’ dowry, so King Philip (Timothy Dalton) wants it back. John (Nigel Terry) and Geoffrey (John Castle) plot with Philip to go to war to get rid of Richard and take the throne. Geoffrey is to be John’s chancellor. Or Richard’s chancellor, depending on who Geoff is talking to at the time. And Richard, eventually to become the Lionheart, is portrayed as having had a homosexual relationship with Philip.
Hepburn (Oscar for best leading lady) and O’Toole (nominated) are at their best, as are Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. The settings are perfect, and the filming well done, in fact, exquisite at times (British Society of Cinematographers Award for Douglas Slocombe), the music score by John Barry won an Oscar and a BAFTA, and the movie earned a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar. I saw it at the theatre almost 50 years ago and have probably seen it as many times since. I don’t think I could ever tire of it. * * * * *