Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Lion in Winter (1968) - ★★★★½

Director: Anthony Harvey
Writers: James Goldman
Stars: Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow

The Lion in Winter is the first film I've decided to watch for my Epic Movie Marathon, and I must say, it is a spectacular film. I wouldn't quite call it an epic, seeing as it had a small cast and a running time of 134 minutes, but my God did it feel epic! The performances are up there with the very best I've ever seen. It had a plot filled with venom and betrayal, spoken with spine-chilling dialogue. O'Toole and Hepburn are two of the greatest actors of all time, and they finally meet their match when they butt heads as the King and Queen of England. I loved the twists and turns, the intelligence, depth and eloquence to the characters, and the way it made me feel like a fly on the wall. It's submersing, it's thrilling, and it's one of the best movies of 1968.

Tis the Christmas season of 1183 AD, and King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) must negotiate with the king of France, King Philip II (Timothy Dalton). In order to keep up the appearance of a happy family, he orders his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), to join him and his three sons in greeting the king of France. Eleanor spends her time constantly plotting against Henry to disrupt whatever plans he may have for their sons... well he has taken away her freedom by locking her up in a castle, I think it's understandable that there's animosity between them! So Henry favours one son, Eleanor favours another, and all three of the sons plot to become the King after their father dies. It's one of the most dysfunctional families in the history of cinema.

I think it's safe to say that the greatest thing about this movie is the performances. It's hard to choose, but I'd have to give MVP to Katharine Hepburn. The power, the venom, the fury, the intelligence, the strength, and the fragility... she exuded every emotion under the sun. My favourite line in the whole film comes from her, "I CAN PEEL YOU LIKE A PEAR AND GOD HIMSELF WOULD CALL IT JUSTICE!" She thoroughly deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress. Someone once quipped "The Queen of England from New England," as an insult to her performance. If anything, the fact that she's an American makes this performance all the more breathtaking. This is the greatest performance by Hepburn, who's arguably the greatest actress of all time.

Peter O'Toole also gave one of the greatest performances of all time. He played a loud, rambunctious, scheming, intelligent, manly king. He and Hepburn had such powerful chemistry, one of the best on-screen pairings of all time. His greatest moment came when he finds out some dirty secrets about all three of his sons. You could practically see the air get sucked out of him, and the hurt that engulfed his body and spirit. O'Toole will always be Lawrence of Arabia, but this is definitely his second greatest performance. I share as much enthusiasm for the masterful Anthony Hopkins, who played their son Richard. I'd have given him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, because you could see all the layers of pain and anguish that he suffered in a scene where he bared his heart and soul.

The music by John Barry gives me goosebumps. The loud trumpets blasting at the start of the film bring the perfect air to this regal yet revolting story. I found the set production and costume design to look very authentic too. It made me feel like a fly on the wall during such a time filled with juicy betrayals and fiery feuds. I just adored the dialogue, which was like a mixture between Shakespeare and modern British stage drama. One of my favourite lines comes from John Castle as the second son Geoffrey. He says, "I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it... we're a knowledgable family." I tell you that line could not have been delivered more perfectly. Had it been spoken by anyone else, I probably wouldn't have understood it.

One of the greatest casts in the history of cinema!
Hopkins and Hepburn, a powerful mother-son combination.
What I really liked was that through all the hatred, there was always an underlying respect for one another between Henry and Eleanor. At first I was on Eleanor's side, then I was on Richard's side, then I was on Geoffrey's side, and in the end I found I wasn't rooting for anyone. It's one of those movies that keeps you on your toes, constantly waiting for the surprise around the corner. Trust me, there are plenty of surprises. It's a masterful story that was cast with some of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen, which is why this is a near-masterpiece of cinema.

The Lion in Winter falls just short of five stars for me, but only because I'm not as passionate about it as I should be. While I adored almost everything about it, I wasn't as taken with it as I am with films such as Gone With the Wind (1939) and Goodfellas (1990). I guess what I'm trying to say is, it loses half a star because it lacked the spark that gets my enthusiasm to soar to extreme heights. Other than that, I found it to be a riveting experience and a film that I'll never forget.

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