Avco Embassy Pictures
Directed by Anthony Harvey
Written by James Goldman adopted from his Broadway play; “The Lion In Winter”
Produced by Joseph E. Levine/Jane C. Nusbaum/Martin Poll
“He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.”
“You chivalric fool… as if the way one fell down mattered.”
“When the fall is all there is, it matters.”
“In a world where carpenters get resurrected, everything is possible.”
“Who says poor John? Don’t everybody sob at once! My God, if I went up in flames there’s not a living soul who’d pee on me to put the fire out!”
“Let’s strike a flint and see.”
“If you’re a prince, there’s hope for every ape in Africa.”
“When the king is off his ass, nobody sleeps!”
I start off this review of THE LION IN WINTER with quotes because for my money, it’s the most quotable movie in film history. Seriously. Just about every single line in this movie is a memorable quote in its own right. The dialog in this movie is simply delicious to listen to, delivered by actors who truly know how to deliver a line. I always recommend THE LION IN WINTER to people as an example of what dialog in movies is supposed to be. The words that come out the mouths of these characters actually mean something. There are layers and nuances in what they say and every single line says something about their character. The dialog in THE LION IN WINTER does exactly what I think dialog should do in any fictional medium: advance the plot and reveal character and it does it masterfully thanks to the skill and talent of the actors involved and the sheer artistry of the writer.
Some people wouldn’t consider THE LION IN WINTER a Christmas movie but I do since it’s set during the Christmas holiday in 1183. King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is wintering at his French estate along with his favorite son King John (Nigel Terry) and The Royal Concubine, Alais (Jane Merrow). Henry summons his other sons; the future Richard The Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins) and Geoffrey, the Duke of Brittany (John Castle) along with their mother and his Queen; Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) to the estate.
Henry doesn’t want to spend the Christmas season with his family out of love. He’s in the middle of sensitive negotiations with the King of France (Timothy Dalton) and needs their support in this. Henry also has to name a successor to his throne. He loves and favors John but he’s weak and feeble. If he gives the throne to him, Richard will just take it anyway and everybody knows that Richard can good and damn well do it. In the meantime, Geoffrey plots behind the scenes for whatever he can get since he has serious resentments that he was never even considered by either Henry or Eleanor of being King. During this time between negotiations Henry and Eleanor bark and bite at each other like a proper married couple is supposed to do as each has their own agenda for the fate of England and their three sons.
There’s no proper way for words enough to express how much I love THE LION IN WINTER. One of the things I do so dislike in modern film and fiction is the insistence that characters be reduced to “human levels” in order to be “relatable.” I’m sorry but I believe that characters can be written as Larger Than Life and still be “relatable” and the characters in THE LION IN WINTER are certainly that. These are characters dealing with the fate of an Empire. Why on Asgard should they be anything Larger Than Life? And when you get right down to it, they’re really just a dysfunctional family whose members really don’t like each other and only get together because of economic/societal considerations and who can’t relate to that? So why not blow it up as big as it can get?
I honestly can’t single out anybody as the MVP of this masterpiece because everybody is at the top of their game in this one. I’ve been a Peter O’Toole fan for years and he’s simply masterful in this one, conveying multiple emotions in the same scene with such command of his craft that I frankly am mesmerized by what he does on screen in this one. And of course, Katherine Hepburn keeps pace with him scene for scene and line by line. Trust me, the movie is worth watching just for them alone.
That’s not to say that the supporting actors don’t bring it as well. This is one of Anthony Hopkins early roles and even here we see glimpses of the brilliance he would bring to roles later on in his career. There’s a scene where Richard and Eleanor talk about their relationship when he was a child and worshipped his mother that raises a lump in my throat every time I see it, that’s how strong and powerful it is. I love the fact that Nigel Terry, so strong and commanding as King Arthur in “Excalibur” is so good as playing a weaselly, sniveling brat here. And John Castle does subtle things with his characterization of the neglected prince Geoffrey that pay off later on in the movie in surprising ways.
And the dialog…By Thor’s Hammer, The DIALOG…I wasn’t joking earlier on when I said this may be the most quotable movie in film history. I would recommend THE LION IN WINTER to you just so that you can hear dialog as dialog is supposed to be written and spoken in movies. You watch THE LION IN WINTER and it will make you realize how shallow and weak what passes for dialog in most modern movies is
If you’ve been reading my reviews for any period of time at all then it’s probably a safe bet that you’ve seen THE LION IN WINTER. If you haven’t, do yourself one of the best favors you’ll do for yourself this holiday season and watch what should be a Christmas Holiday Classic. It’s the ultimate dysfunctional family movie and it’s a lotta fun to watch. You got Amazon Prime? Good. Go watch THE LION IN WINTER. Thank me later.