Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Movie Review: The Lion In Winter (1968)


An insufferable talk-fest, The Lion In Winter is one prolonged argument between distinctly unlikeable family members.

It's Christmas in 1183, and King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is turning 50 and thinking about who should succeed him onto the throne. He convenes a family gathering consisting of his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) and sons Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John Castle) and John (Nigel Terry). Also at the gathering are Alais (Jane Merrow), who is Henry's mistress but promised in marriage to Richard, and the young King Philip II (Timothy Dalton) of France.

Henry and Eleanor are estranged and he keeps her imprisoned. She wants Richard, a warrior, to become the new king, while Henry favours the weakling John. Geoffrey is a schemer but no one considers him worthy of the throne. Meanwhile Alais and the French Aquatine lands controlled by the King become pawns in the fervent succession debates.

The Lion In Winter is a film where family members take turns seething at each other before turning to conspiratorial whispers, hugs, and expressions of intense but often insincere love-hate sentiment. Rage and shouting erupt as routine punctuation marks. Then everyone moves to the next room and starts over. James Golding adapted his own play, and director Anthony Harvey essentially points the cameras at the rampant theatrics and allows the acting talent to talk non-stop, voice volumes often targeting the back row of the top balcony.

The endless series of conversations circle the same topics of succession, conspiracy and marriage for an interminable 134 minutes. Not one of the seven characters is remotely likable or sympathetic. Six are power hungry, phony, and take great joy in undermining each other, while John is a plain dolt. As such, who scores petty points in every round of debate is of no consequence; they all deserve to suffer, and moreover, they all deserve each other. The dialogue is a lot less witty than it thinks it is, and the drama sinks under the self-imposed weight of horrible people plumbing new depths of contempt.

The single setting is a chateau in Chinon, and the successive interactions take place in various candle-lit rooms that essentially all look the same. The performances are on the blatantly melodramatic side of committed, but a modicum of joy is derived from Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn hamming it up. Undoubtedly willing, they anyway drown in the deluge of drudgerous dialogue.






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