The Lion in Winter takes place at Chinon, a French residence of English King Henry II (Peter O’Toole), during Christmas 1183. Henry’s heir, Henry the Young King, had died just months before. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was his prisoner.
Relations with his three remaining sons, Richard the Lionheart, John and Geoffrey, were on a knife-edge, hence intrigues develop around which of Henry II’s sons will succeed him.
Henry favours his youngest and drippiest son, John (Nigel Terry), while Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) has other plans for the oldest, Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins).
The action in The Lion In Winter is less violent than verbal, a matter more of royal skullduggery than set-piece sword fights.
Adapted from James Goldman’s play, the film’s emphasis is on the intrigues, schemes and power-plays between the royal family and, in keeping with his theatrical source, director Anthony Harvey opted to cast leading stage performers for the supporting roles.
The film saw the screen debuts of Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry and Timothy Dalton as the child king of France.
Restricting the action largely to the castle confines, this is a waspish depiction of dynastic struggles where the themes of love, honour and loyalty are explored through poisonous repartee and cunning stratagems.
King Henry II
Eleanor of Aquitaine
King Philip of France
Prince Richard the Lionhearted