A couple of years ago I noticed that a local theatre group, located in the Arvada suburb of Denver, was doing a stage adaptation of the 1968 film titled The Lion in Winter. The film itself was a true study in putting a modern outlook to the 12th century historical events of King Henry II, his French Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and the three eventually famous sons they produced- Richard the Lionhearted, Prince Geoffrey II ( of Brittany) and Prince John who eventually became King John in the 13th century. King Henry and Queen Eleanor were brilliantly portrayed by Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, respectively and the entire film was entertaining in the way that all films can be which attempt to make historical figures come alive as the very real and very human people they actually were.
A lot of liberty in interpretation was taken by O’Toole and Hepburn which no one else could have pulled off. An Eleanor with the cutting sarcastic remarks that only Hepburn can get away with is absolutely refreshing and makes you want to cheer for all suppressed women through the ages. A growling, brutish and equally sarcastic Henry II puts their rocky and struggling relationship into a perspective that probably no one even considered before the second half of the 20th century. Perhaps the collectively bickering family stereotype was a little over the top in the day. That type of soap opera banter was popular writing at the time. It was certainly over done but did not add to the general mood of the film. As the power struggle continues in the squabbling drama which includes Timothy Dalton as King Philip II Auguste of France and Henry’s mistress Princess Alais portrayed by Jane Merrow, you get a sense that each one believes that they can gain power and the throne simply through browbeating their competitors.
Nevertheless, it is marvelous to see the fleshing out of a puzzling time in history when politics didn’t really exist in the truest sense of the word. This Oscar winning film (Katherine Hepburn won the Academy Award for Best Actress) is available on video and I think everyone should take the time to view the Audio Commentary by the Director Anthony Harvey to understand the perspective of the film and why it was and still is so effective and meaningful. His stories about all the mishaps and problems during the filming are absolutely as fascinating as the movie itself.
With a smile without bile
and a ROW-AR from the tower
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