A Lion by any other name would be Lear
The Lion in Winter may feature a litany of real historical characters, but its fictionalised account of Henry's II's search for an heir has more in common with Shakespeare's underappreciated tragedy.Director Anthony Harvey's 1968 period drama tells a lavish, epic, star-studded tale of plotting and scheming amidst royals, but whilst it is ostensibly based on the 1966 Broadway play by the same name, there's no denying that the story is, in essence, that of King Lear (so much so that the lead character even compares himself to Lear). Peter O'Toole - twenty years younger than the character he was portraying - plays the old King who is determined to find an heir to his kingdom (after his first choice, another Henry, dies) out of his three disparate remaining boys: the eldest, Anthony Hopkins' war general; John Castle's duplicitous middle son; and the youngest, a sorry, slumping sap played by Nigel Terry. To add further complications, Timothy Dalton's young King Phillip II of France arrives to ensure that his half-sister Alais is properly married to one of them - despite the fact that King Henry II has taken Alais as a mistress, and imprisoned the mother of his children, Katherine Hepburn's Duchess Eleanor, who also happens to be King Phillip II's ex-step mother, having been married to his father before she met Henry.Although the characters are real, and their titles historically accurate, the rest of the tale is fictionalised, and mostly represents an alternative to Lear's vision of a kingdom torn by a lack of choice of heir. Nevertheless, it's rich ground to mine (as Kurosawa found in Ran) and Harvey creates a sumptuous vision of 12th Century British royalty and a superior, Machiavellian inspection of duplicitous royal plotting and backstabbing. The cast - with Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry and Timothy Dalton all making their debuts here - show promising futures, no doubt assisted by the backbone provided by heavyweight veterans O'Toole and Hepburn, who are at the top of their game (the latter winning an Oscar for her complex portrait of the twisted, damaged mother). With a score by John Barry - proving, even back before he had any under his belt, that almost every piece of his Bond ouevre had already been done before, and would be done again, in all of his movies, Bond or otherwise. There's no doubt that this near-half-century old classic stands the test of time; a lavish epic bolstered by strong performances and an intricate story.
Picture QualityThe Lion in Winter receives a newly restored video presentation courtesy of StudioCanal, who deliver it as part of their Vintage Classics collection, with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition rendition framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
A half-century on, and The Lion in Winter earns itself an impressive restoration
Cleaned up and polished, but retaining all of the texture and grain commensurate with a picture of this vintage, The Lion in Winter has arguably never looked this good - potentially even back on its original release - with detail, clarity, colours, and shadows all standing up to scrutiny. The facial close-ups, clothing (and wig) layers, skin textures and background tweaks remain visible - despite some softness around the edges - whilst cinematographer Douglas "Indiana Jones Trilogy" Slocombe's effortless blend of studio sets and locations provides a lavish backdrop. The colour scheme is rich, with only some of the indoor makeup tones showing age, whilst black levels allow for decent enough shadowing - with the shadows doing a fair bit of lifting in giving the polished sets a level of authenticity. It's a fine restoration effort worthy of celebration.
Sound QualityThe Lion in Winter gets a solid upgrade on the aural front too, benefiting from a strong although, with 20:20 hindsight (as aforementioned) unquestionably Bondian score by John Barry, which sometimes engulfs the proceedings and provides the most powerful element of the track.
The Lion in Winter gets a solid upgrade on the audio front too
Dialogue remains precisely delivered across the frontal array, picking up on the almost Shakespearian rants and monologues, whilst the effects track tries its best to keep up with a few nominal background efforts. Overall, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track does a solid job at upgrading the fifty year old audio.
ExtrasHeadlined by a slightly reserved Audio Commentary with director Anthony Harvey himself, this new Vintage Classics edition of The Lion in Winter also sports a quartet of interviews - including newly-recorded interviews with Actor John Castle and Editor John Bloom, who recall their work on the film, and regale on-set anecdotes and production tidbits in their reflections on it - as well as two shorter archival interviews, with Anthony Hopkins and Peter O'Toole, the latter of which is utterly unmissable.
VerdictThis fifty year old classic stands the test of time and the Blu-ray does it justice
The Lion in Winter may be nearly half a century old but it has stood the test of time, remaining a powerful film that is bolstered by strong performances and an intricate plot. Studiocanal have done a commendable job restoring this as part of their Vintage Classics range, with impressive video and solid audio, as well as a healthy number of extra features which fans will be sure to enjoy. Recommended.
You can buy The Lion in Winter on Blu-ray here
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