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The Lion in Winter
The Lion in Winter
Actors: Glenn Close, Andrew Howard, Antal Konrád, John Light, Soma Marko
Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy
Genres: Drama, Television
UR     2004     2hr 33min

All of britain & half of france were his kingdom. But there was one thing he would never be able to control - his family. King henry ii summons his cunning prison-bound wife to his side as he prepares to announce the succe...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Glenn Close, Andrew Howard, Antal Konrád, John Light, Soma Marko
Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy
Creators: Patrick Stewart, Dyson Lovell, Martin Poll, Paul Lowin, Robert Halmi Jr., Robert Halmi Sr., Vicki Letizia, Wendy Neuss, James Goldman
Genres: Drama, Television
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance, All Made-for-TV Movies
Studio: Lions Gate
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 07/20/2004
Original Release Date: 05/23/2004
Theatrical Release Date: 05/23/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 2hr 33min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A near miss
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 08/21/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The 1968 screen version of THE LION IN WINTER (Lion1) is the most excellent film I've ever seen, or likely will see in my lifetime. But, I've a lot to say about various aspects of this new version (Lion2), so I'd better get on with it. I'll make an effort to be evenhanded.

First, a concise history lesson in the context of the film.

King Henry II of England is also overlord of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and half of France. Henry keeps his wife Eleanor, the Duchess of Aquitaine and the former first wife of King Louis VII of France, under house arrest in Salisbury Castle for revolting against him. In better times, Henry and Eleanor had, in addition to three daughters, five sons: (in order of birth) William, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John. William died at age three. Henry, the anointed heir, died aged 28 in the summer of 1183. It's now the Yuletide season of that year, and Henry II is holding Christmas court at his French stronghold, Castle Chinon. (To be accurate, there's no record of a Christmas court at Chinon in 1183, but that's irrelevant to the essential theme and tone of the story.) Joining him are his surviving sons and, released from confinement for the festive occasion, Queen Eleanor. An aging Henry wishes to cement his succession. His favorite is John. Eleanor's is Richard. Geoffrey, nobody's favorite, maneuvers to get what he can. Complicating the gathering is the presence of Princess Alais and King Phillip II of France. Alais, Louis VII's daughter by his second wife, was betrothed to Richard by treaty between Henry and Louis when she was but a child. Alais has been living at the English court for years, and is Henry's mistress. (Author Sharon Kay Penman in her book Devil's Brood effectively argues against Alais having been Henry's mistress. But, no matter; it adds to the film's plot.) Phillip, aged 18 and King since 1180, is Louis VII's son by a third wife. Phillip either wants the marriage of Alais and Richard to take place, or Alais's dowry, the French province of the Vexin, back. Phillip hates the English monarch, and will use Henry's sons against him any way he can. The holiday skullduggery is so thick as can be pierced with a backstabbing dirk.

The music score is positively anemic compared to John Barry's original. Of particular note in Lion1 are the vaguely menacing "Main Title" that serves as introduction to the destructive passions in the plot, the elegant "Eleanor's Arrival", which accompanies her regal progress up river by open boat to Chinon, and the finale - "We're Jungle Creatures" - that underscores the approaching end to Henry's reign, but the beginning of the great Plantagenet dynasty.

Costuming and sets are too pretty and finished. In Lion1, the interior of Chinon is gloomy, cold, rough-hewn, and smoky (from the torches) - perhaps to be expected in a 12th century pile. And the clothing, even for the royals, wasn't elegant by any stretch. (My favorite scene in the original has Henry casually throwing on a crown and royal cloak over otherwise plain garb before striding through the mud, dogs, chickens and peasants in the castle courtyard to greet the arriving Phillip.) In Lion2, the costumes are too fine and the castle interior, especially the main circular staircase, is too obviously a film set.

The dialogue, perhaps the best ever heard on the Big Screen, is virtually the same in the two productions. However, the nuances from facial expressions, body language, and timing raise Lion1 to the realm of the sublime.

The scripted action is also pretty much identical in both, except for three unnecessary sequences: an opening scene of Eleanor's failed rebellion in 1174, a silly shot of Richard riding his horse up Chinon's circular stairs, and another of Richard attempting to escape house arrest by rappelling down Chinon's walls.

And how about the acting?

In Lion2, Yuliya Vysotskaya as Alais is at least the equal of Jane Merrow's original. Yuliya presents as a slightly stronger personality, and it doesn't hurt that she resembles a blonde Audrey Hepburn. And the new Phillip (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) does a different and perhaps improved take on a relative youngster striving to be a King in the face of the formidable Henry, whereas Timothy Dalton in the role came across with the unscrupulous venom of a misplaced older man.

Rafe Spall as the latter-day John occasionally overacts, in my opinion, almost to the point of parody, unlike Nigel Terry's right-on portrayal of the pathetic youngest Prince. John Light is relatively sphinx-like as the contemporary Geoffrey compared to the sardonic and clever schemer revealed by John Castle. Andrew Howard as the new Richard, whatever the real-life man may have been like, didn't strike me as Lionheart material. The superficial trouble was the actor's unimposing voice. Anthony Hopkin's Richard, I think, would've wiped up the floor with the new guy.

Lion1 starred Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn as Henry and Eleanor. Both received Oscar nominations, and the latter won her category. Only in the last third of Lion2, with Patrick Stewart as Henry and Glenn Close as Eleanor, does the power of their paired performance achieve that of Peter's and Kate's tour de force. Stewart and Close seem too amused with the familial dysfunction of their characters, almost playing them for laughs, especially in the early going. Whatever humor the audience perceives in the dialogue - and there's much, the real Henry and Eleanor, and O'Toole and Hepburn, squabbled over the succession with deadly seriousness. Also, Lion2 portrays both as white-haired ancients. In fact, Henry was only 51 at the time, though Eleanor was 11 years older.

Had I not seen Lion1, I would've given Lion2 five stars. But the former is so superlative in all respects that I cannot.

Finally, let's return to the historical record. A weary Henry, perhaps the greatest of England's monarchs, died of illness in July 1189, two days after being forced by the allied Richard and Phillip to accept humiliating terms ending a war. Richard succeeded to the throne, to be followed by John in 1199. (Geoffrey had died in 1186). Eleanor survived until 1202. John lost virtually all of his father's vast French holdings to Phillip. Alais returned to France to wed another.
A Very Fine Recreation of THE LION IN WINTER
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 05/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Showtime Television has more sophistication in building films than most commercial movie studios and nowhere is that fact more evident than in the 're-make' of THE LION IN WINTER. Though some would say, "Why make another version of the 1968 Hepburn/O'Toole award winning movie", to those I would ask, "Why continue to reprise the the superb play by James Goldman in theaters around the country?" Simply, the play is just that good - an exciting mix of history as explored through the dysfunctional family syndrome tying it all together.The photography of France (as viewed through Slovakia and Hungary settings) in the late 12th century is magnificent, both in exteriors ( Eleanor's entrance on the barge is as grand as Cleopatra's any day!) and in the dank and dark interiors that serve the plot so well. Glenn Close is radiant and in pitch perfect form as Eleanor of Aquitane, the Queen of England to Henry II's King (Patrick Stewart is fine fettle) and who has been imprisoned for 10 years for 'treason'. The couple has three sons and one must be named Henry's successor, but which one - Richard (historically to be known as The Lionhearted), the wily Jeffrey, or the buffoon but beloved of Henry, John? (All three of these roles are in capable hands). Eleanor is released from her prison castle for a Christmas Celebration and the entire play takes place during these two stormy days. The struggle of equally powerful wills of Eleanor and Henry are superimposed on the greed of the three sons, and made more pointed by the arrival of the King of France, Philip (played with complete credibility by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Intrigue abounds, secrets long held are made known, and treachery is omnipresent. But in the midst of this fascinating exposure of monarch history between France and England author Goldman has written dialogue so razor sharp that it suggests Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe": the duets between Eleanor and Henry, the trios and quartets among the brothers and parents, and especially moments like the revelation of the homoerotic relationship between Richard and King Philip are pure theater in the finest sense of the term. This version of the play is 2 1/2 hours of intense and intensely entertaining bravura acting and direction. It deserves to be seen , and to be in the libraries of collectors when it becomes available for purchase."
Good, but not great
SusieQ | New York | 01/19/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I'm such a big fan of the 1968 version, I was really leery of watching this, but I'm not sorry I did. The costumes and the castle of Chinon are wonderful, the historical details are superb. I thought Glenn Close was every bit as good as Katherine Hepburn; they are different actresses of course, but I admired Glenn Close's performance just as much. I really liked Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as King Philip -- his performance is excellent. And I appreciated the way all the characters delivered their lines in this teleplay -- for the most part, their delivery was natural, and the words flowed like actual conversation; less like a "play", with more "reality".

BUT. I had a problem with Patrick Stewart's performance. It's good enough, as far as performances go. I kept trying not to compare it with Peter O'Toole's, but I missed that triumphant bellowing, the presence, the "oomph". I thought Patrick Stewart was a little too down-key; perhaps too reserved. He has such a marvelous voice, I would have liked him to use it to its best effect. In the quiet scenes, he's OK but he really needed to turn on the juice for the anger, the hurt at John's betrayal, etc.

Unfortunately, I didn't care for the actors who played Richard, Geoffrey & John. None of these performances stood out, except perhaps the Geoffrey character was successful in showing the hurt he suffered from his parents' ignoring him all his life. He was twisted (as he's referred to in the teleplay) by this neglect, and at least you had the sense of that from this performance. But on a whole, the actors who played the sons in the 1968 film gave much better performances.

All in all, I liked this teleplay, but I loved the 1968 version. That's the one I have to wholeheartedly recommend."
Linda | CT, United States | 01/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Last week I had the pleasure of viewing for the third time the original Lion in Winter, and decided to check out this newer version. See my review of the original, which of course I rated 5 stars as well, for my thoughts on that. IMO,the new production is different. Not better, not worse, just different.
Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart are both fine actors who are well suited to playing their roles as royalty. Both turned in subtle, restrained performances that do credit to both themselves and the play, never allowing overbearing grandness and arrogance to obscure the humanity of their characters. Having read widely on the subject of their lives, I believe that both Eleanor and Henry were consummate power players, capable of using either bullying or beguilement as the situation required. Close and Stewart display emotion from one end of that range to the other. It's often said that love and hatred are opposite sides of the same coin, and that is certainly apparent here, between husband and wife as well as parents and children.
The supporting cast in the new Lion is also strong, though you have to wonder if the original John was really as worthless and repulsive a toady as he appears on screen.(Eleanor was certainly correct in her assessment of his kingly potential!) The other production values are stunning, with accurately researched costuming and good contrast between the richness of the interior and the dirt and squalor of the exterior settings. It was striking to watch for the servants, who performed their duties nearly invisibly, as would have been expected.
This is a movie worth watching, though a tolerance for talk over action is required. Goldman's dialog is timeless, every bit as witty, stinging, and touching as ever."