The Lion in Winter


The Lion in Winter

Critics Consensus

Sharper and wittier than your average period piece, The Lion in Winter is a tale of palace intrigue bolstered by fantastic performances from Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, and Anthony Hopkins in his big-screen debut.



Total Count: 38


Audience Score

User Ratings: 13,084
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Movie Info

The most royal of the cycle of '60s films dealing with the history and castle intrigues of medieval England, Anthony Harvey's The Lion in Winter returns in a new 4K restoration by Studiocanal. At Christmas Court in 1183 King Henry II argues with his estranged wife, Eleanor, over whether Prince John or Richard shall inherit the throne. Complicating matters, King Philip II of France seeks his own fortune by demanding his sister Alais, currently Henry's mistress, be betrothed to Richard, all the while stirring insurrection among all of Henry's sons toward their father.


Katharine Hepburn
as Eleanor Of Aquitaine
Peter O'Toole
as Henry II
John Castle
as Geoffrey
Timothy Dalton
as King Philip of France
Nigel Stock
as William Marshall
O.Z. Whitehead
as Bishop of Durham
Kenneth Griffith
as Strolling Player
Henry Woolf
as Strolling Player
Kenneth Ives
as Eleanor's Guard
Henry Wolff
as Strolling Player
Karol Hagar
as Strolling Player
Mark Griffith
as Strolling Player
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News & Interviews for The Lion in Winter

Critic Reviews for The Lion in Winter

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (10) | Fresh (35) | Rotten (3)

  • All that's ever mattered about The Lion in Winter are Hepburn and O'Toole, and the pleasure we take from watching two masters inspire each other to greatness. Scenery chewing has rarely been so artful.

    Dec 12, 2016 | Full Review…
  • [A] humdinger of medieval powerplay.

    Oct 7, 2016 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Kate Muir

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Henry and Eleanor are reduced to a TV-sized version of the sovereigns next door, their epic struggle shrunk to sitcom squabbles.

    Jul 14, 2014 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • James Goldman's screenplay, so chic and sophisticated to the ears of suburbanites, is chock-full of the worst kind of sophomoric fiddling with what Goldman takes to be genuine highfalutin lingo.

    Jul 14, 2014 | Full Review…
  • An intense, fierce, personal drama put across by outstanding performances of Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.

    Mar 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Director Anthony Harvey opened up Goldman's play into authentic spaces far from any proscenium, and remained faithful to an energetic drama propelled by its performances and dialogue.

    Dec 21, 2007 | Full Review…

    Mark Bourne
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Lion in Winter

  • Dec 18, 2018
    Goldman's screenplay is glorious, both melodramatic and savagely funny. O'Toole and Hepburn play off each other so well, a great melding of two generations of acting styles.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 28, 2014
    "In the winter, the mighty winter, the lion sleeps around!" Forget adultery, because there's also sibling rivalry, political unrest, family dysfunction, and other such junk to make this just about as stereotypical as a politically-charged drama set during 12th-century England can get. Naturally, it scored the Golden Globe for Best Drama, because from the mid to late '60s, the Globes were really getting into films like these, though not quite as much as Peter O'Toole. Shoot, I don't know if O'Toole was so much into politically-charged dramas set during 12th-century England, as much as he was just interested in Henry II, because, seriously, this is his second time playing the cat, and this film isn't even an official sequel to "Becket". He should have run through all of the Henrys and worked his way to Henry VIII, so that he could get a couple wives who were better-looking than Katharine Hepburn. No, Hepburn didn't look too shabby, but she was a little more masculine than O'Toole's character in this film, although I might just be thinking of the "Becket" Henry II who kept wining about missing his boyfriend... who was not played by Katharine Hepburn. Well, there is still plenty of saucy drama going on here, and it makes for quite the good movie, whose familiarity doesn't exactly end with O'Toole's role. 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
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Nov 26, 2013
    Peter O'Toole breathes life into Henry II. The intrigue around the palace is worthy of an entire season of Game of Thrones. This story is real although one suspects that Henry II was less of a lion than O'Toole.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 16, 2012
    King Henry II invites his estranged wife and three children to celebrate Christmas with his mistress, and the three sons vie for the throne. Only slightly better than the remake, this classic film, for which Katharine Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar, is more fast-paced and sharply executed. Writer James Goldman's sharp wit, including such lines as "Quiet, darling, Mummy's fighting" and "If I was on fire, no one would pee on me to put me out" "Let's strike a flint and see," becomes clearer when put in the hands of such technically savvy actors are Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, and Anthony Hopkins. But as with the remake, I struggled to understand what the backbone of this film is beyond family melodrama. There were a few moments when, looking at Hepburn's world-weary, tear-stained face, I thought that it was bemoaning the ravages of age, and indeed, this is the best that I can come up with, but I can't understand how this theme interacts with the political plot. Overall, like the Stewart/Close version, Lion in Winter is fun to watch, and even though I hate Hepburn normally, I found her performance compelling here.
    Jim H Super Reviewer

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