Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Lion In Winter (1968)

I watched The Lion In Winter for the second time the other day and was completely blown away. Words can't express how amazing this film is. I am proud to say that I have just taken a massive acting lesson from Kate Hepburn, Peter O'Toole and the rest of the whole cast. You will be seriously hard-pressed to find a film with better script, direction and acting all at once. Before you read all of this review, if you haven't already, GO WATCH THIS! You will most certainly not be disappointed.

The Lion In Winter (1968) Dir. Anthony Harvey


The Plot:
Set in 1183 at Christmas time, King Henry II of England is having to face the facts about his life, and what will happen when he's gone. He has three living sons: Richard, John and Geoffrey. He wants John to be king and particularly doesn't want Richard to be king. Geoffrey is left somewhere out on the sidelines and no-one wants him (That makes it sound heartbreaking, LOL! It isn't. He's a conniving creep). Every Christmas and Easter, King Henry sends for his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine to be let out of her prison back in England (he's in France at the moment) and she is rowed across the channel to meet him.

As soon as she gets back all hell breaks loose. He only releases her to keep the people happy and stop her getting so angered that she will do something drastic. She knows that their marriage has finished. Henry has been with his mistress Alais for many years now, yet it still pains Eleanor to see them together, as she raised Alais like her own child.

With all the family "home for Christmas" questions about the aftermath of Henry's death are bound to come up. When they all get there they play a game of who is going to get Aquitaine and who is going to get to marry Alais (who is being passed about like a political chess-piece). Eleanor wants the eldest son Richard to get the throne. Since his birth she raised him almost entirely on her own, and they have always had a  love-hate mother-son relationship. However Henry favours the younger, more stupid and awkward John as his heir.

Thus starts the painful game of "who can hurt the other more" between Henry and Eleanor. Eleanor retires to her room convinced that she is "done for this time"

But then she and the three boys have the idea of making an alliance with King Phillip of France who is there making sure that Henry keeps to his promise of one of his sons marrying Alais, as he has already given him her dowry. They all go in turn to try and talk to him about it, and each time another brother or family member comes in, he hides the previous one in a different tapestry in his room, and by the end they are all popping in and out of them like jack-in-the-boxes (it's actually hilarious. Just a little :-D).

Well, Henry decides he wants an annulment so he can marry Alais and have more sons that are conspirators/idiots/pains in the neck and Eleanor is very upset. She really does still love Henry and now she's going to lose him and the only power she has left. How will they get out of this mess?

The Verdict:

This film is quite the masterpiece of Historical drama. I wouldn't say this if the cast had been different. I don't think it could have been cast any better. Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn manage to even out their age-gap well. Even though she obviously looks older than she used to (she was 61, after all) Kate Hepburn's energy and complete and utter commitment to her character subtracted quite a few years from her age, and the beard they gave Peter O'Toole and his older-looking face (apparently from excessive alcohol consumption...) just about evened their age out. All of the brothers are also cast very well. In all honesty there is no one part out of the three that is better or more juicy than the others. Anthony Hopkins is great as Richard. He has one particularly difficult scene to play, the one where he plays out his negotiation scene with King Phillip and there is some subtext which you are left to guess at, and then when Henry comes in, Phillip says right out that basically Richard tried to make a relationship between the two of them. He does all of this very well and when he finally comes out from the tapestry to confront Phillip, I found it very moving.

The way they set up the triangle of Henry/Eleanor/Alais was very clever. They knew that Henry and Eleanor obviously had much more chemistry (however unpleasant at times) and Alais does seem quite dull. It has to be said. This obviously makes the viewer even more eager for something to happen to slightly patch up Henry and Eleanor's relationship. The actress playing Alais (Jane Merrow) was a lot less than fantastic. Sure she was OK, but she did stick out a little among the stupendous other actors. Ah well, I almost think that was the desired effect.

Peter O'Toole's performance was great. This is a great example of start as you mean to go on. He knew that he had to make Henry big, just as big as Katharine's Eleanor. So he started out with his "big" characterization and he kept it up. I'd like to think that then watching the two greats Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn and their great performances had a domino effect among the cast and everyone upped their game. That's what it seems like. In all of their scenes together, Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn are totally equal in their performances. It's like with her and Spencer Tracy. You don't feel that one performance takes away a great deal from the other. Obviously there are the inequalities in the actual story which they play brilliantly, but they are equal actors. I find that this always makes for a more exiting watch.

I can't say anything about Katharine Hepburn's performance that hasn't already been said. Whatever I said before about the two actors being equal blah blah blah I take back when I think about Eleanor's monologues. I think I only find the film this way because she has so many great chances for amazing solo sections. Her Eleanor is fiery, interesting - yet still with a vulnerable side. I was very near bursting out into tears at the last scene when she confesses to Henry that now she's lost him she's lost the only thing worth living for and keeps crying, "I want to die. I want to die." And he just gives her a hug *starts weeping all over again*. As I was saying, the monologues are great and all the scenes when she's tormenting Henry really are horrible. Particularly the one where she is torturing him the the "fact" that she slept with his father and he runs out being sick which leads to the line I think best describes the film "Well, what family doesn't have it's ups and downs." LOL! It's the entire best line in the film, but I also like:
Henry: The day those stout hearts band together is the day that pigs get wings.
Eleanor: There'll be pork in the treetops come morning.
Eleanor: Henry's bed is Henry's province. He can people it with sheep for all I care, which on occasion he has done.
Henry: Rosamund's been dead for two seven years...
Eleanor:...Two months and eighteen days. I never liked her much.
Henry: You counted the days.
Eleanor: I made the numbers up.
I think that along with a few other favourites (The Philadelphia Story, Little Women, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner...) this is one of my favourite Katharine Hepburn performances. Usually I would have found a tie for best actress Oscar odd, but since it was between K. Hepburn for this and Barbra Striesand for Funny Girl I wouldn't be able to choose between them. Plus, it's hilarious to see Ingrid Bergman's reaction when she reads out the result :-)

Katharine Hepburn's four record-setting Oscars: (Right to left) Morning Glory (1934), Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1968), The Lion In Winter (1969) and On Golden Pond (1982). All for best actress. She was nominated for best actress a total of 12 times.

The costumes are all pretty amazing. Henry's doesn't change, neither do many of the men's but they are really stunning and so are the women's. By the way, can anyone tell me what that white thing Kate Hepburn wears is? I don't know, but it looks intriguing. Plus, can I just say that underneath that red dress she wears for all that time, I think she is wearing either trousers or a jumpsuit. It's totally Katharine Hepburn to do that but it still made me chuckle when I saw her feet poking out of a pair of trousers under that humongous robe :-D

Anthony Harvey directs the picture fantastically. I don't quite know how you could go wrong with this script and this cast, but he enhanced them beautifully.

To finish off, here are some quotes I found about the film from Katharine Hepburn's autobiography, "Me: Stories Of My Life":

We had great fun, as usual. Peter and I had the same makeup man. One day I was waiting and waiting for him. Finally I went down the hill to find him. He was doing Peter, who was not working until later.
"What the hell goes on?" I said. "He's supposed to be doing me. I'm in the next shot." I grabbed the makeup man and his box. I gave Peter a good swat on the head and we climbed back up the hill into my dressing room. When we were ready, we started the scene in the cellar and who should come in but Peter. His head was completely wrapped up in bandages and he was walking with crutches and moaning. You can see we had fun."
There was a great shot of our boat coming down the Rhone River to land. The tide in the river was very high. We rehearsed the shot one afternoon, and by the next morning the pier was completely submerged. We shot down the river in a wild wind. I was in all my gorgeous robes.
I looked at one of my retinue who was dressed in full armour, and said, "I hope you have all that stuff unhooked. Otherwise when we turn over you will plummet to the bottom. I am myself totally able to step out of all this finery. I shall simply dive away and swim to shore naked." He was shocked. I don't blame him. It was exciting and the shot in the movie was great.

And here's one from Peter O'Toole about Katharine Hepburn:
'We were filming one day and I kept her waiting on set because I was still in my caravan, playing cards. 'She stormed in and shouted: "You are a real nut and I've met some nuts in my day." And then she hit me.' A couple of hours later, I went to see her and gave her a present to say I was sorry for keeping her waiting. 'She said: "Don't worry, pig. I only hit the people I love."'
It sounds like it was great fun to work on and it's certainly a really great movie. GO WATCH IT!



KimWilson said...

This is an interesting 60s period film--more like a stage production than a true motion picture, but that was acceptable at the time. O'Toole and Hepburn are great, but a tad overly theatrical at times. Nice analysis. As for the tie between Hepburn and Steisand--neither should have wom, but instead Patricia Neal for her role in The Subject Was Roses.

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Laurel said...

Just saw Now Voyager for the first time and stumbled into your wonderful blog. You like all the movies I liked! Kindred spirit, I'll be back often.

King lion said...

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Jum said...

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