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The Lion In Winter (1968, Anthony Harvey)

50-year old King Henry II wants to decide during a Christmas retreat which of his three sons would be his worthy successor. But his wife, his sons and the young King of France all plot against him and each other.

In a sort of prequel to Shakespeare's "King John", this is one of the most amusing films I have seen in a long time. There is not much visual wizardry or storytelling through images. The stage play which is the basis of the script can still be felt in every scene. But the dialogue is full of poisonous wit and the actors seem to have had the time of their lives. O'Toole comes on incredibly forceful (I haven't seen his other King Henry film yet) and playful just the same. Hepburn is just as amazing to watch and her Oscar well deserved - the age difference between the two actors is absolutely irrelevant. It is pure joy to watch these two characters going at each others throats.

The evil remarks that the players throw at each other is something to be marveled at in great detail. Some of my favorite scenes are - the aborted wedding scene, the King and Queen discussing him setting her free in their private chambers and the scene between Hopkins and Hepburn. Actually, I loved most of them.

I have picked the wedding scene for trying to figure out how the balance shifts back and forth between the players.

 Beat 1:

Henry II has dragged everybody to the chapel, where the bishop is waiting. He has decided that Richard (his second-eldest) should marry his mistress Alais. John is astonished because he  believes that his father might prefer Richard to him. Alais is aghast and Queen Eleanor does nothing to calm her.

ALAIS: I won't say the words! Not one of them! It makes no sense!
Why give me up? What do you get? What are you gaining?

HENRY: Why, the Aquitaine, of course.

Henry is completely open about his plans, which is in line how he likes to appear: straightforward, honest, and brutal. Obviously, he is scheming at something completely different with this move.

Beat 2:

Richard does not agree to this, as his mother promised the Aquitaine to him. He decides that he will not marry Alais. Henry dares his son to defie him. Henry asks the King of France, Philipp, to persuade Richard to do "something".

RICHARD: What's that again?

HENRY: Your mother gets her freedom, and I get the Aquitaine. (to Eleanor) That is the proposition, isn't it? You did agree.

RICHARD: Of course she did. I knew it. It was all pretense. I believed it all.

ELEANOR: I meant it all. 

RICHARD: No wedding. There'll be no wedding.

HENRY: But, my boy, look. Durham's waiting. Marry her, for my sake. It isn't much to ask. 


HENRY: But I promised it to Philip. Think of my position.

RICHARD: Damn the wedding and to hell with your position. 

HENRY: You don't dare defy me.


HENRY (to Philip): You're the king of France, for God's sake. Speak up. Do something.

All Richard can do here is simply refuse his father's wishes. As brave and swift as he may be on the battlefield, he is no match to his father's intricate scheming. Henry obviously knows how his son would react to his plans for giving Eleanor the Aquitane.

Beat 3:

Philippe amusedly remarks that Henry has never meant to have the wedding and that his anger is staged. The two kings snarl at each other - Philippe is not impressed by Henry's blustering and leaves the chapel angrily. Richard makes fun of the "old lion".

RICHARD:  Make a threat. Come on, frighten me. Am I? Dunce!

PHILLIP (to Richard): He never meant to have the wedding.

HENRY: Come again.  

PHILLIP:  You're good at rage. I like the way you play it.
HENRY: Boy, don't ever call a king a liar to his face.

PHILLIP: I'm not a boy... to you or anyone!

HENRY: Boy, you came here asking for a wedding or the vexin back. By God, you don't get either. It's no to both. 

PHILLIP: You have a pact with France!

HENRY: Then damn the pact and damn France. She never marries, not while I'm alive.

PHILLIP: Your life and never are two different times.

HENRY: Not on my clock, boy!

RICHARD: Listen to the lion! 

(Phillip off)

It is obvious that Phillip, although hot-headed is much more versed in the scheming of a royal court. He plays it mockingly, but can easily be angered by Henry until he leaves in scorn. Henry is only "checking him out", something that he tries to make use of later in the movie.

Beat 4:

Richard makes a remark about Henry (III), Henry's oldest son who has died. This is obviously something that hurts the king, as obviously he would have been the successor to the throne (also the use of close-up). Richard threatens him that he will take the crown by force. Henry threatens Richard to be imprisoned in the castle. Richard leaves in anger.

RICHARD: Come on, frighten me. 

HENRY: Don't spoil it, Richard. Take it like a good sport.

RICHARD: How's your bad leg?

HENRY: Better, thank you.

RICHARD: Your bad back? You're getting old. You'll have me once too often.

HENRY: When? I'm  50  now. My God, boy, I'm the oldest man I know. I've got a decade on the pope. What's it to be? The broadsword when I'm   ?

RICHARD: I'm not a second son now. Your Henry lies in the vault, you know.

HENRY: I know. I've seen him there.

RICHARD: I'll have the crown.

HENRY: You'll have what daddy gives you.

RICHARD: I am next in line!

HENRY: To nothing!

RICHARD: Then we'll only have the broadswords now. 

HENRY: This minute?

RICHARD:  No, on the battlefield!

HENRY: So we're at war?                 

RICHARD: Yes, we're at war. I have men at Poitiers. 

HENRY: Can they hear you? Call and see who answers. You're as close to Poitiers as you'll get.

RICHARD:  You don't dare hold me prisoner. 

HENRY: Until we're all agreed John comes next, I can and will. You're a king's son, so I treat you with respect. You have the freedom of the castle.

RICHARD: The castle doesn't stand that holds me. Post your guards. (off)

Richard tries to take the conflict to the physical level but Henry brushes him off. Only his remark about the king's dead eldest son seems to stir an emotional reaction from Henry. This leads him to escalate the conflict, albeit very cautiously - keeping his son as prisoner.

Beat 5:

John is happy: He believes that he will be king now, as the marriage is obviously off. Geoffrey congratulates him in a very patronizing way. They both leave the room. The bishop also leaves, as there no one around to marry.

Beat 6: 

Eleanor insists on Henry kissing Alais. When he does so, to spite her, the Queen seems deeply moved and in tears. She still seems to love the king despite her intrigues and scheming. (Another use of closeup)

This scene lays out all the characters in the play and their relations to each other. Henry is definitively the king of the situation, his weak point is his dead son. Eleanor is wicked but still has feelings for her husband. Phillip understands that he is supposed to play a certain part in this charade but he is too inexperienced yet to see through all of Henry's maneuvers. Richard, John and Geoffrey hope for the crown, but they are all politically and emotionally unfit to be a king. And Alais is just a pawn, naively in love with Henry.

The only weak spot that I felt in this scene (but happens often in the movie), that it doesn't fundamentally change the basic relationships. At this point in time the viewer is already familiar with the characters and their situation. But after the whole wedding drama, nothing really has changed in the actual situation, except that the conflict between Richard and Henry has escalated to a physical level. For fairness, I guess that this is the whole point of the play: Lots of smoke and mirrors and politics to hide the actual need for the involved men and women - the family as a safe emotional haven.


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