The Lion in Winter (1968) strikes an unusual balance between high Medieval
melodrama and absurdist comedy.
The early moments (stoic stone faces, clanging swords) quickly give way to a much
more original sensibility,
helped along greatly by Peter O'Toole's terrific sense of timing. In a film sporting a
cast that includes Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, and Timothy Dalton, the
emphasis constantly switches between different textures.
That's what keeps the film fresh.
The story itself is familiar from Shakespeare and other sources: The aging king plans
his successor's coronation, but choosing between his pathetic trio of sons
causes a great deal of conflict. As his queen, Hepburn spends nearly all of her time
locked in a jail cell, trotted out for holiday celebrations and other special days.
Meanwhile, the king indulges his
diverse tastes (an eye-popping early line recounts his sexual conquests).
All of the acting is excellent. Hopkins broods effectively and O'Toole displays his
unique brand of bravado mixed with whimsy. Hepburn gives her usual performance
(she won the Oscar for her role here), which is either a good thing, if you're a fan, or
The anamorphic widescreen video starts out speckled with dirt but quickly regains its
composure. Colors are muted but the image is crisp and looks very nice.
The 2.0 audio works fine. There is some good, subtle sound design here and it shows.
No English subtitles are included, which is a shame, but Spanish and French are
A trailer and audio commentary are included. The
commentary starts off less than thrilling; Mostly reminiscences on locations, but
eventually director Anthony Harvey gets into his work with the script and the actors.
Ultimately it is an interesting track.
The Lion in Winter seems initially to draw itself from innumerable costume
dramas but through the energy, intensity, and humor of the script and cast it turns out
to be quite a unique experience.
Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.