The Lion in Winter, is a story of King Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the feuding powers among him and his sons. The story begins with King Henry in power and his wife locked away in a castle, to be let out for the Christmas holiday. But it is Eleanor’s shadow of influence and power that holds the reigns to the film. Henry locked away his wife after she and their sons tried to overthrow him. And she is to be let out for reasons of politic as the couple needs to be seen together for Henry to maintain his control over England, Wales, Western France and Northern Ireland. It is also written that at the request of her sons she is given reprieve from her long term imprisonment.
The history of the time is dizzying and information varies. Henry and Eleanor, 11 years his senior, had several children together. The Lion in Winter is focused on Eleanor, the aging Henry and his increasing loss of control over his own crown, as his sons; Geoffrey, the aggressive manipulator, John, the simple idiot, Richard, a nobleman of spokes and wheels, and Philip, the highest reigning son are all competing for the crown and all enthroned rights that go with it.
Eleanor played by Katharine Hepburn is marvelous. And Peter O’Toole as Henry really meet each other as partners in a mixed up world. At one time Henry and Eleanor were very much in love. But infidelity and complications of powers caused them to turn on each other. It is Eleanor’s second marriage, as her prior arrangement to the King of France was annulled.
“How dear of you to let me out of jail,” Eleanor says to Henry as she steps down from her vessel. “It’s only for the Holidays,” he replies. It is as if the couple was purely in love at some time somewhere and now the two are bent on destroying whatever was beautiful between each other, as much as possible. As if they were once one planet that somehow broke into two and now two universes swirl about each other and somewhere in the center between them is a black hole. Henry loves Eleanor more than he could love any other woman ever, which is exactly why he hates her so much. That and she did try to dethrone him with aid of his own sons.
“What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” Eleanor states as the plots ensue as to whether or not to kill Henry for the throne and if so, which of the sons should achieve it? While the family gathers round for Christmas Henry picks up a wrapped gift, he comments on it being heavy, then says, “It’s my tombstone. Eleanor! You spoil me.”
“I never could deny you anything,” Eleanor replies. The constant torment between them continues, and Eleanor ponders, “How, from where we started, did we ever reach this Christmas?”
“Step, by step,” Henry states as if they are discussing the building of bricks to a house, rather than their own destructive tendencies toward each other. The script hints on the fear of death and how it motivates people to seek power in unnecessary corners. As Eleanor leaves on her boat to return back to her castle Henry shouts to her;
“You know, I hope we never die!”
“So do I.” his wife replies.
“You think there's any chance of it?” They both laugh together at the idea of eternity, as her boat glides away. And so, the lion has its winter.
By Sarah Bahl