October 30, 2005

Oct. 30 in the movie history

Filed under: Movie calendar — movie_critic @ 3:36 pm

Oct. 30, 1968 – the day of the theatrical release of the unforgettable movie “The Lion in Winter”. A film adaptation of an earlier Broadway play has become famous due to its unbelievable emotional charge and superb acting of the cast. It was based on the story of one of the most famous couples in history – Henry II, the King of England (Peter O’Toole), and his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), set at the time when Henry II, having lost his oldest son and heir and feeling that his time is coming to a close, summons to his favourite castle of Chinon his estranged wife Eleanor and his remaining sons in order to choose a new heir to the throne.

The unbelievable love story of Henry and Eleanor, who was 10 years his older and already married to the French King Louis IX when she met the 18-year old Henry and they fell in love and then married – it is all in the past. The days of love between Henry and Eleanor are long gone, she’s been conspiring against him for years, presumably to avenge his marital infidelity, and now they are locked in a mortal battle of wits, conspiring against each other, so that the son one of them favours most would become the heir to the throne. Eleanor’s favourite is Richard (the future Lion Heart, played very energetically by young Anthony Hopkins in his film debut). Henry favours the youngest and rather feeble son John ( the future King John the Lackland – played by Nigel Terry). The middle son Geoffrey(John Castle), generally overlooked by both his parents, is plotting against everyone, using the weaknesses of his retarded younger brother John to ensure John’s place as the future King with him as a real ruler behind the throne.

To add to this explosive situation a young King of France, Philippe II (unbelievably young Timothy Dalton in one of his best performances) is showing up at Chinon to press the marriage of his sister Alice, the bride of the now deceased heir, to the new heir of the English throne or to take her back to France. Unfortunately, the sister has already become a mistress of the King Henry II himself and he has no desire to part with her. The French King has also other matters to pursue in Chinon – including trying to rekindle his past relationship with Richard as well to try to secure his future influence in England through carefully plotted game. The king Henry is left alone amidst this nest of snakes, with only Alice loyal to him, while all others, including his favorite son John, are betraying him one by one.

By the end this cauldron of emotions is coming to a point of explosion, when the King decides that none of his sons with Eleanor deserve a place on the throne and it would be best if he had a new heir with his young lover. The sons unite in their hatred against the father and strike against him and only Eleanor saves him from the untimely death at the hands of his sons.The movie was actually a facsinating, tragic portrait of a very dysfunctional family on the verge of collapse, the family which ironically was created out of one of the biggest romances in the history.

The dialogues between Henry and Eleanor, when they throw their grievances at each other, trying to prove that the other was responsible for this failure, are riveting. O’Toole’s famous temper is fully unleashed here, but behind all the King’s follies, one can see a vulnerability of a man, who’s come to his life’s end and with all his glory and power he is alone and hurt and does not have a soul to turn to. Katherine Hepburn is mesmerizing as Queen Eleanor – a worldly, educated, strong-willed and very dangerous woman, still in love with her strayed husband, but unable to get him back and therefore avenging herself by striking him where it hurts most.

The monologue with the mirror, where Eleanor gives herself a little pep-talk after one of the turns where the king had beaten her at her own game, is one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in the movies. She is positively shining with the strength and conviction of a woman, who has known many defeats, but came back from them stronger and more resilient. Katherine Hepburn, who was 60 at the time, is also very beautiful in that scene. She had won an Oscar as the Best Actress for her role in this film.

The main question of of the film is asked in the end, when Henry and Eleanor, just having witnessed a rebellion of theire sons against their father, which almost cost him his life, look at each other and wonder how they came to this point of hatred and destruction from all that love that they had before. There is not an easy answer, just regret and sadness in the end.

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