The Lion in Winter (1968)




Director:  Anthony Harvey

Starring:  Peter O'Toole (Henry II), Latharine Hepburn (Eleanor of Aquitaine), Anthony Hopkins (Richard), John Castle (Geoffrey), Nigel Terry (John), Timothy Dalton (Philip II), Jane Merrow (Alais), Nigel Stock (William Marshall).

Oscars:  Best Actress (Katherine Hepburn), Screenplay (James Goldman), Music (John Barry)

Henry II of England and his many familial problems    


Spoiler Warning:

Henry II of England practices sword fighting with his somewhat crippled son, Johnny.  He says that Johnny is improving. 

Henry tells his young and pretty mistress Alais that Henry will be ready to be king and will make a good king.  He says he has built an empire -- all of Britain and half of France  -- and wants to make sure that he keeps the empire together.  Alais says she thinks she will lose her Henry.  He says she is the only one he loves.  She asks what about Rosamund Clifford?  Rosamund is dead.  What about Eleanor?  How is your Queen?  "Decaying, I suppose. . . .  She is not among the things that I love."  He has been with Eleanor for ten years. 

Henry tells his Marshal, William, that they will be holding Christmas court at Chinon.  [Chinon is a commune in the Indre-et-Loire department in central France well known for the Château de Chinon, a medieval castle which at times served as the residence of the kings of France and England.]  The King of France will join them.  Henry wants William to find his two boys, Richard and Geoffrey, tell them to come to Chinon.  Then fetch the Queen from the Salisbury tower. 

William informs Richard who was jousting and then informs Geoffrey, who was playing war games with real soldiers.  Then William  fetches the Queen who is busy painting in her jail cell in the tower. 

Henry rises from his bed and Alais awakens too.  They talk about Henry and Eleanor's many children.  There were eight in all.  They want to disinherit Richard and Eleanor knows that young Henry is dead.  Eleanor wants Richard on the throne and Henry II wants John on the throne.  Alais says she can't be the King's mistress, if she marries his son John.  She goes on to say that she just wants to disappear.  Henry II says she can't do that because her brother Philip is the King of France now and he wants Alais to marry John or else Alais' dowry will go back to Philip. 

Geoffrey arrives in Chinon.  Johnny welcomes him warmly.  Then Richard arrives.  Geoffrey asks Richard if mother still wants him to be King?  Richard says he and mother have not gotten along very well recently.  Johnny tells Richard the he must remember that father loves him best.  Richard tells Johnny that he must remember that Richard will be the King!

Alais says that none of the sons like Henry.  Henry says that's because they are always fighting as a family and that's the way he wants and likes it to be.  One always has to be fighting to be King and alive.  That's what Henry says he had to do in order to survive. 

Eleanor arrives by boat.  When she greets Henry she says how wonderful Henry is to let her out of prison.  He reminds her it's only temporary. 

Now arrives 17 year old Philip, King Philip II of France.  They all gather around a fire in the chimney of the main room.  Philip says it's time for Alais to marry Richard or they will have the dowry (county Vexin) back. 

Henry says there's a problem.  Several years ago they gave Aquitaine [one of the 27 regions of France, in the south-western part of metropolitan France, along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with Spain] to Richard and this has made Richard very powerful.  And the Vexin [an historical county of northwestern France on the right bank of the Seine comprising an area east-to-west between Pontoise and Romilly-sur-Andelle (about 20 km before Rouen), and north-to-south between Auneuil and the Seine near Vernon] belongs to Henry because he has his troops stationed there.  Philip leaves the room. 

Richard says he will have Aquitaine, Alais and the crown.  Richard leaves the room.  Johnny leaves the room.  Eleanor says about Johnny to Henry: "And that's supposed to be the King?"  Yes, says Geoffrey, and he is to be the Chancellor for Johnny.  Geoffrey leaves the room.  Now alone with her husband and Alais, Eleanor confesses that she doesn't really like their children.  Then she says some critical things about Alais and Alais virtually runs out of the room. 

Henry says he will never let Eleanor out of prison because she has led too many civil wars against him.  She says:  "And I damn near won the last one."

The couple go into dinner together.  She says he is still a marvel of a man and he says that she's his Lady. 

Henry says he's sick of war.  Nevertheless, he insists on keeping the Vexin.  His troops there are only one day from Paris.  "I must keep it."  Eleanor says that if Alais does not marry Richard, she will make sure Henry loses the Vexin.  She adds that she can do it and he replies that she can try.  They go into the banquet acting like they are a loving couple. 

Richard comes to talk with his mother as she has requested.  The problem is that Richard just doesn't trust his mother and they talk about that more than anything else.  Johnny comes running into the room saying that father has finished working out the treaty terms.  Eleanor and her sons go to ask father about the terms he is offering Philip. 

Henry shocks them when he says that now he wants Richard to succeed him.  He also gives him Alais.  John sees this as a betrayal, but Henry explains that John is not strong enough to hold the empire against the likes of Richard.  He adds that if Richard is King, England will stay intact.  Alais and Johnny are extremely angry.  John tells his mother that he will show her for he has not lost yet. 

Eleanor tells Geoffrey that Henry has not given up on John.  He wants too much to hold onto the Vexin.  And she doubts that the marriage of Alais to Richard will ever take place.  Geoffrey tells her basically that he wants to be on her side, the winning side. He wants to be Richard's Chancellor now, because with him on Eleanor's side, she can't lose.  Eleanor comments that he was surely quick in tossing out John for Richard.  Will he do that to all those he knows?  They trade barbs with each other, until Eleanor says that Geoffrey can be Richard's Chancellor. 

Eleanor walks with Richard saying her only desire now is to see Richard be made King.  Richard replies:  "The only thing you want to see is father's vitals on a bed of lettuce.  You don't care who wins, as long as Henry loses, you'd do anything,."  He says Eleanor is not going to use him to get vengeance on her husband.  She speaks of her early days with Count Henry.  Three years after they married, Henry had become King of England, done at 21.  Back then there were no rivals for Henry.  No Thomas Becket or Rosamund.  And then came her children.  "Had I been sterile, darling, I'd be happier today."  She also says she loved Richard more than her husband, and it has cost her everything.  Richard says what she really wants is the Aquitaine and she agrees with that.  She can make Richard King and make Alais his bride, but she must have back the Aquitaine to do it.  Richard tells her he will never give it up.  She says she loves Richard, but he sees her as incapable of love. 

Still at the banquet, Henry whispers to William to go tell the French King that he will see him in the parlor in half an hour.  Geoffrey is there when the King gets the message.  He seems to want to conspire with the King against Henry.  He asks the King:  "What if I were the King?" 

Geoffrey goes to see Johnny to tell him about his plan.  He says that they have to make a deal with Philip because Richard's in and Johnny's out.  If he and Johnny join with Philip, they can finish off Richard and mother too.

They both go to see Philip.  Philip is willing to join his troops with those belonging to the two brothers.  Johnny asks Philip if he thinks they can win?  Philip says:  "I know it."

Alais complains to Henry that he promised her to Richard.  Henry says he never meant it.  It was all part of his plan and part of the plan is that he has to get the Aquitaine for John.  Eleanor has been listening to this and she comes into the room laughing.  Alais leaves the room.   Eleanor tells her husband:  "No Aquitaine for John."  Henry yells at her that he shall have the Aquitaine for John!  Eleanor keeps saying no, until Henry tells her he will give her freedom in exchange for Aquitaine. Eleanor says she will sign the documents transferring the land to John, but only on one condition.  Richard must marry Alais right now.  Henry says he can live without Alais.

Eleanor and Henry continue to argue, until Henry shouts for a bishop and the boys to meet them in the chapel.  When Alais hears the news he, of course, becomes very upset saying she won't do it.  And when Richard hears that the wedding is to take place so that Henry can get the Aquitaine, he also says there will be no wedding.  Henry and Richard start shouting at each other and Richard says he has 2,000 men at Poitiers.  Henry says he will hold Richard in prison until everyone agrees to the wedding.  Richard leaves the chapel.  Johnny is very happy, saying he is King again!  Geoffrey tells him he's glad to hear it. 

Everyone leaves except for the King and Queen and Alais.  Eleanor asks what happens now?  Henry says he doesn't know.  He only knows that he is winning. 

In private Eleanor tells herself that she has lost again and is done for this time.  Then she says she will get him back next time.

The three sons come into the room to discuss the situation.  Johnny is unreliable and he spills the beans about the war against Richard.  Johnny runs to Philip to ask him what should he do now?  Mother catches on immediately and immediately she starts barking orders to Geoffrey and Richard.  She tells Geoffrey to stop John from getting to Philip so she will have enough time to tell Henry that John has betrayed him.  She says John has disinherited himself.  Eleanor tells Richard to go to Philip and act desperate and offer Philip anything he wants.  Once Philip is pacified, she and Richard will make their plans.

When Eleanor is alone again she gleefully says she's got Henry this time.

Geoffrey goes to speak with Philip.  He says the plan is working out.  He will be the chosen one and the crown can come to him.  Johnny is hiding behind the curtain and hears all this.  Now he tries to kill Geoffrey with a large candlestick holder.  Geoffrey tells his brother that he was not going to tell father about Johnny, but Philip certainly would have.  Johnny says he doesn't know anymore who are his friends.  There's a knock at the door and Geoffrey and John go behind the tapestries to listen in on the next conversation.  It's Richard who is now at the door.  Richard just asks straight out if Philip will help him? 

It appears that Philip and Richard had an earlier homosexual relationship.  Philip asks him why didn't Richard write to him?  He says Philip got married.  Does that makes a difference?, asks Philip.  Richard now says that Philip never said that he loved him.  Philipsays he will tell Richard when the time comes.  Now someone else knocks on the door.  Philip hides Richard behind the other tapestries in the room.  Henry has come to talk with Philip. 

Henry says he wants to reach a settlement and he knows he gave Philip too little earlier.  Henry says he is offering peace.  The reply:  "Piss on your peace."  Philip says Henry is old, but he, Philip, has plenty of time and plenty of patience.  And why should Philip fight Henry when Richard will do that for him?  Henry abruptly says good night to Philip and starts to leave.  Philip is perplexed and says Henry has settled nothing with him.  Henry says he's won already, for now he knows what kind a man Philip is and what are his goals and strategies.

Now Philip wants to reveal a bit of Henry's past.  He says Henry made his (Philip's) father useless.  He was always better, bellied with his wife, defeated him in every war, twisted every treaty and then Henry made his father love him (Henry).  Then he accuses Richard of committing sodomy on him (Philip).  As Philip goes on describing the act, Richard pulls back the tapestry and shouts:  "No!  It wasn't like that!"  He tells Philip that Philip loved him.  Philip says:  "Never!" 

Richard asks his father to leave the room.  He asks his father why did he always favor his brother Henry?  Dad says because Richard favored Eleanor.  Richard replies that's because his father never called for him.  He would have crawled to father if he would have only called him.  The King says this is not his fault and he won't take the blame.  And thank God, he has another son, John.  Now Geoffery makes an appearance and says why did father never call for him?  Henry says he never thought much of Geoffrey and still doesn't.  Now Geoffrey says his beloved John has betrayed Henry.  Henry says he doesn't doubt that John loves him.  Geoffrey shoots backs:  "Like a glutton loves his lunch."  He pulls back the tapestries to expose John's presence.  John calls Geoffrey a curse word and then says he would never plot against father.  Dad says he knows.  Johnny asks for permission to go to bed now.  Henry lets him go. 

But, apparently, dad is not so gullible.  He grabs Johnny and keeps asking him why couldn't John trust him?  Why couldn't John wait?  For whom did Johnny think father built this kingdom?  Henry says he loves Johnny, who replies:  "You are a cold and bloody bastard, you are, and you don't love anything."

Henry now says he disowns his sons.  He has no sons!  "You're not mine!"   Leaving the room he says to himself that his boys are gone, he lost his boys.

Henry walks to the banquet hall.  He goes to see Alais.  He goes into her room, but then walks out again.  He now walks on the parapet.  He sits down and hugs his knees with his arms and hands. 

Eleanor comes to see Alais.  She tells Alais that there was a nasty scene between Henry and the boys.  Alais says that Rosamund was prettier than Eleanor.  The older woman says she does not hate Rosamund.  Henry put her in her (Eleanor's) place.  And, no, she never poisoned Rosamund.  Now Eleanor asks Alais why isn't she happy?  Henry is keeping her.  Alais says all she sees when she looks at Henry is Henry.  When Eleanor looks at Henry, she sees Henry and she sees at the same times his wealth, title and land.  "Leave him to me, can't you?"

Eleanor says she is finished and has come to give Henry anything he asks for.  Alais says for a Christmas gift, she would like to see Eleanor suffer.  Eleanor says:  "Alais, just for you."  Alais starts crying and hugs Eleanor and Eleanor hugs her back. 

Henry comes in and sees this scene.  Alais tells Henry that Eleanor wants him back.  He tells Alais to go to her room.

Eleanor says that Richard told her that father told the boys that father was going to disinherit them.  Henry says that he thinks he will relent.  She says she will agree to anything Henry wants.  In exchange for what?, asks Henry.  For a little peace and quiet.  Henry doesn't believe her and he starts yelling at her.  She is tired of listening.  He tells her:  "I'm vilifying you, for God's sake, pay attention!"

Henry now doesn't want Richard or John.  So what does he want?  He says he wants a new wife.  Eleanor asks Henry if he thinks the Pope will annul her?  "Out Eleanor, in Alais."  Why?, she asks.  Henry says a new wife will bare him sons. 

Eleanor says to her husband:  "We've mangled everything we've touched."  Henry agrees.  They reminisce about their first meeting each other.  He says that he loved her.  They kiss.  Eleanor says there will be no annulment. 

Henry says he will go to Rome now to get an annulment. Eleanor says if he leaves the country, he will have lost the country.  Later she tells him:  "I'll kill you, if you leave me."  Eleanor starts describing how she may or may not have had sex with Henry's father.  This drives Henry a bit crazy.  He runs from the room.  Trying to catch him Eleanor falls on the ground.  She sits up and says:  "Well . . . what family doesn't have it's ups and downs?" 

Henry wakes all his guards and staff up.  The guards go and grab Philip, then Geoffrey, Richard and John.  All four are thrown into a prison cell. 

Henry tells William to tell Eleanor to get up and pack.  She will leave at the first dawning. 

Henry tells Alais to get up and pack.  They are leaving.  "We are off to Rome to see the Pope."  He says that in Rome he will have his marriage annulled as never having been consummated and then he and Alais will be married by the Pope.  Alais says that Eleanor will stop them.  Henry say no, because he is sending her back to Salisbury Tower.  And Richard can't stop them because he's been thrown into the dungeon.  Alais asks Henry does he realize that he will have to keep his sons in the dungeon forever?  If they ever get out, his sons will send her to the dungeon or the nunnery.  And they will kill any child she might give birth to.  Henry says he shall have to keep his sons in prison. 

Eleanor goes to the dungeon to see her boys.  Her guard kills the jailer.  Eleanor enters the large cell and tells the boys that her barge sails with the dawning and she has come to say goodbye to then.  She has also brought each of the boys.  She says the way is clear for them to walk right out of prison.  The sons talk of killing their father, but Eleanor doesn't want this.  She just wants them to go their own ways without assassinating anyone.  Richard says mother tried to kill father before.  Mother says she never wanted Henry dead.  She wanted Henry back with her.  "I wanted Henry."

While the four people argue, Henry and Alais come into the cell.  He has brought chapel candles and sets them up for Alais to light them.  Richard asks father why did he come here?  Father must know that he can never let him (Richard) out.  Then Richard grabs a dagger.  Dad takes the two other daggers and throws them to Geoffrey and John.  Henry grabs his own dagger and tells his sons to come at him.  The guys hang back.  John drops his dagger and runs for his father.  Henry grabs him and puts his knife to John's throat.  Eleanor tells her husband to execute the boys.  "They're assassins, aren't they?" 

Henry throws down his dagger, but then grabs his sword and condemns his sons to death.  He acts like he's going to kill Richard, but he does not.  He sits down.  He says for his boys to go on for he is finished with them.  Geoffrey and John take off running.  Richard throws down his dagger and walks out of the prison.  Henry says:  "I couldn't do it, Eleanor."  She replies:  "No one thought you could."  Now he says:  "I want no woman in my life.  I could have conquered Europe, all of it, but I had women in my life."  He tells Alais to get out and she runs out. 

Eleanor says that she wants to die for she can never have Henry.  He tries to cheer her up.  He gets up and then helps her up.   

Eleanor and Henry walk down to the barge.  Eleanor asks if Henry will let her out for Easter?  She's hoping he will.  She gets on the barge and Henry helps push it out onto the river.  He shouts to her:  "You!  I hope we never die."  Eleanor shouts:  "So do I."   Henry shouts:  "Do you think there's any chance of it?"  He then starts roaring with laughter. 



My first reaction did not give the film a chance, hence:  "This is another one that gets 4 stars that I can't figure out why.  It is long (135 minutes) and too talky with entirely too much arguing.  Something like "A Long Day's Journey Into Night" set in England.  Now you know why they say Henry II (Peter O'Toole) had a very dysfunctional family with his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) and children at his throat."  

It's a faux-Shakespeare that is not hard to understand.  It's all about familial problems with little focus on what Henry II's biographical resume says. 

It's an unusual family story.  The family members scheme against each other and call each other names.  And yet, there is a lot of love in that family.  All the boys are resentful against father for not loving them, or ignoring them or not caring for them and they try to get the love of their father.  Not getting it, they lash out against father.  Eleanor the wife is the same.  She says and does terrible things against her husband, but then always says her end goal is to go Henry back for herself.  Everybody is lying to each other because they feel cheated of love by Henry.  And, in his own way, Henry loves his family, but he is always fighting with them, so he has no time to be loving to them.  In many ways, the whole thing is a charade.  It's all a game and yet not a game.  They talk past each other almost all the time.  They fight and fight and then forgive only to return to fighting.  It's lashing out because husband/father won't be loving to them.  What the family needs is a family therapist to sit them all down and explain to them what's really going on.   

There is a lot of good dialog, but little action, but if you accept that right from the start, you can enjoy the strange battles that take place inside the royal family of England. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


1100-1135 -- Henry I ruled. He felt the need for a specialized treasury department. This was the origin of the exchequer.

1128 --  Matilda, daughter of Henry I, marries Geoffrey of Anjou (Plantagenet); their son becomes Henry II.

1135-54 -- Stephen of Blois takes over, pushing Matilda, daughter of Henry I, out of the way. 


Henry was courageous and quick-tempered, and hyperactive.

1152 --  he marries Eleanor of Aquaitaine; first they are happy; young son Henry dies of dysentery and son Geoffrey is trampled to death by a horse.

1153 -- crosses the English channel; Stephen caves in.

1154-89 -- Henry II; in the person of the charismatic Angevin (i.e., from Anjou) Henry II, son of Matilda and Geoffrey, England got one of the greatest of her monarchs -- Godfather of the English.

He was the most important lawyer of all the lawyers in this legal century. He was the true founder of the English Common law. He was the first king since the Norman Conquest to be fully literate. He re-established the jury system. The writs of his reign were designed not to replace feudal courts, but to provide a sanction against abuse in the feudal courts, with the royal courts offering a kind of judicial review. But in fact the system of writs soon brought about the replacement of feudal courts with royal courts.

In these courts there gradually emerged one law, common to all England, based on the judgments of successive judges. Roberts and Roberts, p. 107 The English Common law had come of age.

He quarreled with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket. Becket's father was a rich merchant, but still a commoner. Becket was a Londoner, a big league player. He was tall and he developed with Henry a pseudo-sibling relationship. Henry wanted to put the church in its place and so pick Becket as an ally. But the power went to Becket's head. He started to wear a hair shirt as underwear. At a conference in Clarendon Becket takes the stance of total resistance. 1164 there is a trial at Northampton; Becket is accessed to the misuse of funds when he was chancellor; convicted; lands on the Flemish coast; creates a real government in exile. Henry punishes anyone connected to Beckett. They reconcile. But Becket was very self-righteous with an inability to meet the king even half-way. The king said he would forgive the supporters of Becket, but Becket would not forgive the supporters of Henry. When he is back at Canterbury he excommunicates the bishops who had supported Henry. Henry rails against the treasonous arrogance of Beckett. Four knight take a ship to Kent and then to Canterbury. Four of Henry's knights murdered Becket in his own cathedral at Canterbury. Henry had to undergo a humiliating penance. One knight hits him with a blow to the head, followed by another blow to the head by a second knight, opening the skull; the third knight uses his blade to scoop out Becket's brains and spread them on the church floor. Henry has to do penance.

Henry II had a lot of trouble with his sons. They were egged on by his wife Eleanor who was angered at Henry's infidelity to her. They rose in revolt in the summer of 1173. The rebels were defeated.

1180 -- Louis VII of France dead; succeeded by more ruthless and skillful Philip Augustus. Philip now allied with Richard, now the eldest son of Henry II. Philip asked Henry to recognize Richard as his lawful heir. Henry refused. Richard then kneeled to Philip and did homage to him for all the French lands. This act led to open war in which Henry, deserted even by John, suffered defeat. Only his death in 1189 and the succession of Richard to all his lands saved the Angevin Empire.

1189 -- Henry II liked his son John; Richard declares war on his own father; in battle Henry is forced to see how his own nobles desert to support Richard; he is crushed when he sees the document with the names of the supporters of Richard, and John is the first name; dies 2 days later, some say of a broken heart, while other says he died of a bleeding ulcer.  .

1189-1199 --  reign of Richard the Lionheart.

He spent less than six months of his ten-year reign in England. Captured while on a crusade. It takes 34 tons of gold to ransom him out. Meanwhile, his brother John had declared him dead and took over as king. Richard I is killed at a siege in France trying to take back the kingship.

1199-1216 -- reign of Richard's brother, John, King of England.



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