The Lion in Winter Reviews
This movie covers a reasonably interesting period of history: the reign of Henry II of England and the potential succession of one of his sons. However, what should be a relatively simple exercise is turned into an overly complex exercise in Machiavellian manipulation, lies and deceit. Nothing is simple, and just when you think an issue is resolved, it unravels.
Initially all this politics is intriguing, but it wears thin fairly quickly. It soon resembles intrigue and politics for the sake of it, and serves only to pad the movie.
The ending is also quite lacklustre and anticlimactic after all the twists that went before.
Powerful performance by Peter O'Toole in the lead role. Too powerful, in that almost all his dialogue is shouted. It gets quite irritating, quite quickly. In fact his whole performance seemed a touch too over-the-top.
Solid effort by Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine. The performance got her a Best Actress Oscar.
Interesting also to see Anthony Hopkins in an early-career role: this was his second big-screen movie.
Even more fresh-faced was Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France. This was Dalton's big screen debut.
By nature of being a dialogue-driven period epic, this film is unique, but even then, you got plenty of this formula in "A Man For All Seasons" and "Becket", alone, and even though this film handles the formula better than, at the very least, the former, its familiarity as a should-be refreshing political and family drama makes it really difficult to ignore the other familiar aspects of this sort of subject matter. Still, it would be nice to grow more accustomed to the characters focused on in this film, at least enough to embrace them better, because even though the rich characterization and acting are there, they back morally problematic roles which compliment somewhat weighty histrionics as they do edgy themes. Set in a romantic time and a notoriously scandalous kingdom, and first interpreted in a stage drama, this subject matter is defined by its melodrama, but it's sometimes hard to embrace it, even in the context of this film, and whether that be because the characters are so questionable, or simple because the histrionics are occasionally too extreme, the film treks an almost contrived path, and a touch too steadily. The dialogue is sharp, and I don't know how much of it I would be willing to expend, but considering that it is the driving force of this 134-minute-long pseudo-epic, the final product gets to be a bit repetitious, and is ultimately way too blasted long, occasionally to where even the inspired momentum finds difficulty in securing dramatic momentum. The film is fairly entertaining in its flair, and certainly compelling in its sophistication, but it is a slowly paced affair that is sometimes too slow, resulting in bland, if not dull spots which challenge your attention in a narrative that, even in concept, proves to be a bit of a challenge to your investment. What might threaten this film as much as anything is its natural shortcomings as a non-epic of a political and family drama which is revolved around dialogue over action, and around characters who are intentionally problematic, but problematic nonetheless, limiting bite in concept which is further softened by elements of convention, melodrama and dragging. The final product is pretty flawed, and could have succumb to underwhelmingness, but what it does right it does so well that it very decidedly rewards, as a bitingly clever and dramatically juicy affair which immerses, with the help of solid art direction.
An intimate period melodrama, this film relies about as much on its setting as it does on its dialogue, thus, Peter Murton and the uncredited Lee Poll are meticulous in their crafting a recreation of the royal environment of 12th century England which is handsome and immersive in its distinctiveness, with a convincingness that is the first step towards selling this story. The subject matter's minimalism and melodramatics go a little too intensely stressed by draggy and, in other ways, somewhat overblown storytelling, and on top of all of that, most of the roles intimately focused upon are a little too flawed to be fully embraced, but as a study on the political and personal affairs of a dysfunction royal family, this story is very intriguing in its subtle layers and sophistication. Adapting his own play, screenwriter James Goldman does a lot of justice to the layering and intelligence, keeping color going, in spite of an overt reliance on chit-chat, with outstanding dialogue whose humor biting, and whose expository depth manages to do a plenty rich and organic job of fleshing out dynamic layers and rich characters, the backs of which might serve as a vehicle for dramatic resonance, should inspired direction be on board. Anthony Harvey, as director, delivers on some subdued dry spells, but manages to utilize tight scene structuring, combined with snappy writing, to establish adequate entertainment value, while plays on anything from John Barry's powerful, but underused score work, to deafening sobriety pierce with dramatic tension. At the very least, the sophistication of Harvey's storytelling is so respectable that one has be endeared towards the director's improvable, but tasteful efforts, which compel consistently in their engrossing you into the lives of richly drawn and even more richly portrayed characters. Most everyone has his or her time to shine, but not one shines quite like the leads, with Katharine Hepburn being intriguing and sometimes moving in her proper, yet humanly vulnerable portrayal of an intellectual and disrespected queen seeking some form of liberation from oppression, while Peter O'Toole once again nails Henry II's intensity as an ambitious king of great pride and great folly, whose gradual thickening shall emphasize his mortality. These and plenty of other major characters are a little sleazy, and it's hard to get invested in roles like that, especially when only so much acting material is offered, but if nuanced characterization doesn't make the leads enthralling, then their strong portrayals do, carrying an intimate drama whose aesthetic grace and sophisticated storytelling secure the reward value of this subtle, but striking affair.
Once winter has passed, the resonance of the film is a little chilled by conventions, questionable characters, melodramatics, often bland dragging, and, of course, natural shortcomings to a minimalist, yet promising story, whose value is complimented enough by immersive art direction, sharp writing, sophisticated direction and nuanced performances - especially from Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn - for Anthony Harvey's "The Lion in Winter" to stand as a subtly, but surely rewarding and intimate study on the personal affairs and conflicts of 12th-century English royals.
3/5 - Good