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Henry II has reached middle age, at 50 his kingdom stands at the cusp of successfully passing on his mantle to one of his three sons or see everything he has built burn in civil war. On a fateful day in 1183 Henry II invites his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine - who he has held in prison for the past ten years - as well as their three remaining sons, to the castle of Chinon to celebrate Christmas. Also in attendance is Phillip II, the King of France who wants to see the English monarchy pushed completely out of his country...
The Lion in Winter (1968) is a historical drama, which started life as a play in 1966, written by James Goldman and was championed by Peter O’Toole into a film. The film was directed by Anthony Harvey, from Goldmans own script.
As is often the case, whilst every effort was made to make the period piece look authentic, the actual historical truth behind the events depicted in the film had little basis in fact. Not that this should put you off as Goldman presents Henry and his family as a bunch of latter-day Mafioso, all looking to gain an advantage, even if it means literally stabbing each other in the back.
The screen fairly drips with talent. Katherine Hepburn plays the formidable Eleanor, still as fierce and bold as when Henry first married her. Her scenes with Peter O’Toole, as Henry II, shows that they were well matched, if a little toxic, as a couple. The film was also the first outing for a couple of actors wet behind their movie ears, with Anthony Hopkins playing Richard the Lionheart and Timothy Dalton.
The subject matter may sound a little dry and dour, but the film is anything but. The endless machination between Eleanor and Henry as well as the growing frustration of his sons keeps the pace up and the threat close.
The film has been fully restored with an English and German 2.0 DD audio track, as well as English subtitles. For the extras you have two old interviews with Anthony Hopkins (3 min, 53 sec) and Peter O’Toole (4 min, 11 sec) as well as two new interviews with, John Castle (11 min, 16 sec) and John Bloom (11 min, 11 sec). The disc also sports a full length commentary from Anthony Harvey.
The film has a great script which is delivered by actors at the height of their game; even the newbies demonstrate here what would later on make them great actors. The film went on to be not only a massively large financial success but also ended up as a mutli-award winner.
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