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
The Lion in Winter had a Shakespearian feel to it, yet it transcended many of the usual story issues by having a fine touch of charming humour to go with it as it unveils its story about King Henry II and his challenges in life. It's like Shakespeare, but it has 3 elements that elevate it above Shakespearian cinema. One is that it has humour which is more obvious without having to research it for hours on end to find one joke, and yet the humour is subtle and effective. Another is that it's written in a comprehendible language with a strong script. And thirdly is that it doesn't completely suck. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I hate Shakespeare. But I didn't hate The Lion in Winter as it took the good elements of Shakespearian cinema and left the bad, save from a lot of talking and a rather slow pace.
The production design in The Lion in Winter is spot on as it makes the plot thoroughly convincing of the story's timeframe and setting, as do the costumes.
And the cinematography is just excellent as it constantly manages to keep everything in perspective without too much movement or editing. Plus the locations The Lion in Winter is shot on prove beneficial.
The Lion in Winter receives thoroughly strong direction from Anthony Harvey, and under it the cast all manage to succeed and make an impact.
Peter O'Toole is incredibly ferociously strong in The Lion in Winter and it's undoubtably one of his greatest performances. The power in his performance is laden with the kind of strength that Shakespearian actors could only dream about, because Peter O'Toole is so fierce and so powerful without going over the top that his intimidation as an actor has honestly never been stronger than it is in The Lion in Winter. His performance is so dominating that it's ridiculous that he wouldn't win the Academy Award for Best Actor, just as it is ridiculous that he was nominated for 8 in his lifetime without ever winning. Nevertheless he gives the greatest performance of the film and makes The Lion in Winter an unforgettable experience.
I'd say that Katharine Hepburn gives one of her finest performances, but considering that practically every performance of hers is one of her best, it's safe to say that her performance in The Lion in Winter is terrific. She uses her same talented charisma as an actress and skill for confident line delivery that she always uses to charm audiences into giving her four Academy Awards, with The Lion in Winter being the third of them. Her chemistry with Peter O'Toole was also exceptional, since there was a real marital spirit to what they were conveying, and her character development as she gradually made more of an impact standing up to King Henry II as the story went on.
Anthony Hopkins also gives one of the best supporting performances from early on in his career. He shows off the same dramatic passion and character dedication that would later win him an Academy Award and earn him such a respectful reputation. His charisma is strong and his talent at creating chemistry with other actors is rich. Anthony Hopkins is great to see working under Peter O'Toole as they are two of cinema's most celebrated male actors, and seeing them in the same film is quite the experience.
Timothy Dalton supplies some strong talents from earlier on in his film career as well, and John Castle and Nigel Terry also did a fine job.
So The Lion in Winter is an incredibly well acted and visually strong story which has most of the good Shakespearian cinematic elements and few of the bad ones.