Monday, August 26, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Lion in Winter (1968) ***½

PG, 134 min.
Director: Anthony Harvey
Writer: James Goldman (also play)
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow

I’d never seen “The Lion in Winter” until recently. I didn’t know how deliciously pointed and witty it is. Watching Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn dance their duel of words with each other is like watching a world championship of some sort. This is politics that puts our political campaigns to shame. This film should be required viewing for anyone going into political negotiations.

The movie is about a Christmas time gathering during the reign of England’s Henry II. Philip II of France has come to force Henry to make good on a promise he’d made to his father 16 years earlier, which involved marrying off his sister Alais to one of Henry’s sons to become queen. But, since reaching adulthood Alais has become Henry’s mistress. Getting everything Henry wants, naming the heir he wants, keeping his mistress as his own and remaining at peace with France, is going to take some finagling. His biggest hurdle is his own Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who prefers Richard to succeed rather than Henry’s favorite, John.

Although, they are at odds, they agree on many things, mostly that they don’t like any of their three sons. Their discussions aren’t mere arguments; they’re sparring, flirtation, a form of love making for the failed pairing. O’Toole’s apparent brutish Henry is incredibly intelligent. Hepburn’s Eleanor has a great deal of bitingly funny lines.

I’ve heard many comments about the length of this movie and the fact that little happens. That doesn’t really mater, however, because Hepburn and O’Toole make it all so enjoyable. James Goldman’s script is like one of Shakespeare’s best comedies in the way it’s characters so intelligently use language to manipulate each other and with its lethally sharp wit. I suspect if I watched the movie again, I’d ignore the rather eventlessness of it all and bump it up to four stars for the pure joy in language it embraces. 

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