21 August 2006 | OttoVonB
Christmas in the Lion's Den
King Henry gathers his three son, wife and mistress for the Christmas holidays. This allows the family not only to exchange gifts, but also a host of venomous insults and elaborate on their individual plots to gather status, remove opponents and move closer to the crown.
Based on a play - as most classic character and dialogue-centric movies tend to be - The Lion in Winter's main delight is in watching this vicious family in-fighting, chiefly the parents using their children as chess pawns in a deadly game. But who's playing whom? And when are they actually playing, and when they are, do they always know it? This is first-class writing of the highest order, and, very wisely, the director largely stays out of the way once his cast is tuned. Because as he and we all know, the first question most people ask when a film is mentioned is, "who's in it"?
The cast is a parade of titans on career-best form: Kathrine Hepburn often gets most of the credit for her smooth and calculating Queen Eleanor, but as the raging King Henry, Peter O'Toole is just as good, throwing tantrums and mood-swings, half of which are complete simulations designed to throw enemies off guard, like an aging Hamlet with more agency and the power to behead people. Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton throw in very worthy supporting turns as Prince Richard - the future Lionheart! - and Prince Philip of France respectively.
The Lion in Winter is a film of many pleasures that will appeal to a broad variety of viewers. If you like epic period films, it will compel you with its immersive atmosphere and feel of the world at large with its political intrigue. For the first time in cinematic history, you feel the filth, both physical and moral, of even these regal surroundings. If you like intimate films about human relations, it boasts the most toxic family dynamic this side of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. Even if you are just curious, it has a score of unforgettable one-liners you'll never forget.
This one deserves all the hype and then some!