The Lion in Winter was a 1968 film based upon the life of Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won three. Katharine Hepburn won the Academy Award for Best Actress (which she shared with Barbra Streisand for "Funny Girl"), John Barry won Best Original Score, and James Goldman won Best Screenplay. The film also received nominations for Best Actor (Peter O'Toole -- lost to Cliff Robertson for "Charly"), Best Picture (lost to "Oliver!"), Best Director (Anthony Harvey, lost to Sir Carol Reed for "Oliver!"), and Best Costume Design (Margaret Furse, lost to Danilo Donati for "Romeo and Juliet"). It also features performances by the young Anthony Hopkins as Richard, and Timothy Dalton as King Phillip of France. It is a wonderful film -- the writing was excellent, and the Academy nods to Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole were richly deserved.

The film tells the story of a "family gathering" at Christmas of 1183 -- the family of King Henry II, his estranged (and normally imprisoned) wife Eleanor, his sons Richard, John, and Geoffrey, King Phillip II of France, and Henry's mistress (but Richard's fiance!) Alais, sister of Philip. Henry is in the process of deciding who will succeed him as King. Originally grooming his (buffoon of a) son, John for the throne, the situation becomes increasingly complicated, since Richard has his own aspirations for the kingdom, Geoffrey is jealous of his brothers, and John is impatient for his father to die. Richard is also the preferred choice of his mother, Eleanor. Henry's wife and sons each have their own schemes, with their goal being the Plantagenet throne. Eventually Henry, alternately amused and disgusted with his family's plotting, disowns his sons by Eleanor, and threatens to travel to Rome, have his marriage to Eleanor annulled, and marry Alais with the Pope presiding! The film climaxes with Richard, John, Geoffrey, and Eleanor in the castle dungeon. Henry raises his sword to strike down Richard for treason, and then....

The film is mostly fictional, since there are no records of this family event happening. However, the political (and personal) intrigue is probably not far from reality. The thing that makes the film so wonderful (for me) is the incredible dialogue, particularly between Henry and Eleanor who are alternately tender and terrible with one another. As the film winds toward its climax, the interplay between Hepburn and O'Toole is amazing, leaving me alternately breathless with laughter, and crying in pain and horror. The dialogue is so fast and fluid, you have to watch it multiple times to catch everything. But you have to catch it all, because it's so... delicious. Near the end, Eleanor, trying to wound Henry, regales him with a story of how he was cuckolded by Henry's own father, sending him screaming and retching from the room. Eleanor hounds him all the way to the door, and there collapses in a heap, saying quietly to herself "What family doesn't have its ups and downs?"

Despite the horrible things they say and do to one another, it's clear that they are deeply in love with one another, leaving one with the sad impression that the only thing keeping them apart is politics, the only greater love being that for power.

The film was adapted from James Goldman's play of the same name, which debuted on Broadway in 1966. The original Broadway production starred Robert Preston as Henry and Rosemary Harris as Eleanor, and featured Christopher Walken as Phillip. In 1999, it was revived on Broadway, featuring Laurence Fishburne as Henry and Stockard Channing as Eleanor.

Sources: (mostly empty but potentially interesting)
American Movie Classics (it was on last night)
Thanks to Ereneta for info about the Broadway play.

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