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The Lion in Winter Review

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A Lion by any other name would be Lear

by Casimir Harlow Sep 29, 2016 at 8:24 AM

  • Movies review


    The Lion in Winter Review

    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 is Anthony Hopkins' war general; the middle is a duplicitous snake, played by John Castle; whilst the youngest is a sorry 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.

    The Lion in Winter
    Although the characters are real, and their relationships largely based on historical fact, 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 rule (at the time, Henry II was happily settled in France) 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).

    This near-half-century old classic stands the test of time

    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 on strong performances and an intricate story.

    The Rundown

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