THE LION IN WINTER (Anthony Harvey, 1968)

Ungainly to the point of being anti-rhythmic, poorly written while incessantly congratulating itself for lofty wit, ineptly acted by leads and near-leads, The Lion in Winter will forever be remembered as the mess that scandalized and undid the New York Film Critics Circle. (When this god-awful piece of trash won the group’s best English-language film prize, the group revised its rules so no such outcome could ever again occur.) Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn—he, swerving between heartiness and nastiness; she, swerving between crybabyness and nastiness—play England’s King Henry II and his imprisoned French queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, briefly together again to celebrate Christmas 1183 with their greedy, power-hungry sons; inserts of the drafty castle’s vicious pets assist those too dim to otherwise gauge how nasty these royals, and one other (France’s young King Philip), be. The worst performance—well, how does one judge? Hepburn’s Oscar-winning Eleanor, because she threatens to drown everyone else with her eternal blubbering? Anthony Hopkins, who redefines the future Richard Lion-Heart as the stereotypical Queer and Chicken-Heart? Nigel Terry as pouty, unkempt, self-pitying John who one day will become Robin Hood’s Nemesis-in-Chief? Mediocre though she may be, Jane Merrow—who? Jane Merrow—gives the best performance as Princess Alais, Philip’s nubile sister, who sleeps with Henry and aims to marry, well, one of the boys.
     Note that, while Richard is homosexual as a matter of orientation, Philip is so as a matter of stealth and strategy. You can’t trust a frog no-how!
     James Goldman’s adaptation of his own lousy play picked up an Oscar, as did John Barry’s portentous score.


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