Jump to content

The Lion in Winter (1968 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Lion in Winter
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnthony Harvey
Screenplay byJames Goldman
Based onThe Lion in Winter
1966 play
by James Goldman
Produced byMartin Poll
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byJohn Bloom
Music byJohn Barry
Color processColor
Haworth Productions
Distributed byAVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • October 30, 1968 (1968-10-30)
Running time
134 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Budget$4 million[1]
Box office$22.3 million[2]

The Lion in Winter is a 1968 historical drama centred on Henry II of England and his attempt to establish a line of succession during a family gathering at Christmas 1183. His efforts unleash both political and personal turmoil among his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their three surviving sons, the French king, and the king's half-sister Alais, who is Henry's mistress. The film stars Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, was directed by Anthony Harvey, written by James Goldman, and produced by Joseph E. Levine, Jane C. Nusbaum, and Martin Poll. Actors John Castle, Anthony Hopkins (in his first major film role), Jane Merrow, Timothy Dalton (in his film debut) and Nigel Terry appear in support.

Based on Goldman's play The Lion in Winter, the film was a commercial and critical success, winning three Academy Awards (including Hepburn's tie with Barbra Streisand for Best Actress, making Hepburn the first three-time winner in the category). A television remake of the film was released in 2003.


It is 1183 in the medieval Angevin Empire. Fifty-year-old Henry II of England seeks to establish a line of succession while he is still powerful enough to do so. He summons his family for Christmas at his castle in Chinon, Touraine. He wants his youngest son, John, a weakling, to inherit his throne, while his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, reprieved from imprisonment in England by Henry for the holiday, favours their eldest surviving son, Richard, a proven warrior.

Henry invites Philip II of France, son and successor of Louis VII, Eleanor's first husband, to settle some important outstanding business with him. Louis had made a treaty with Henry pledging Philip's half-sister Alais, currently Henry's devoted mistress, in troth to Henry's future heir; Philip demands either a wedding or the return of her dowry, the strategically important county of Vexin near Paris.

Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, an Oscar winning performance

Henry comes up with a solution that will make nobody happy. He agrees to give Alais to hard-hearted Richard to wed, and make him heir-apparent, in return for Eleanor surrendering the Duchy of Aquitaine she wishes to keep to the wretched John, buying with her gift her precious freedom. When the arrangement is revealed at the wedding, Richard, who coveted the Aquitaine himself, refuses to go through with the marriage – just as Henry had anticipated.

Perceiving treachery in Henry's ploy, John is easily manipulated by his scheming middle brother, the "unloved" Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, to plot with Philip to make war on Henry, in return for being named John's chancellor. Richard then appears and plots with Philip, being easily maneuvered while John and Geoffrey hide behind a curtain. Henry and Philip then meet to discuss terms, with all three princes in hiding. Philip reveals he had been caballing with John and Geoffrey, then with Richard separately, and that he and Richard may once have been lovers. Philip casts their romantic liaison as always having been a scheme. Richard emerges and decries this, but Philip, saying he had always loathed Richard's sight and touch, just turns the knife deeper.

Recognizing his sons' limitations, and their various and multiple plottings against him, Henry dismisses all three as unsuitable heirs to his throne and endungeons them. He readies a train to travel to Rome to demand an annulment of his marriage to Eleanor by the Pope, intending then to wed and have new sons with Alais. She protests he will never be able to release his treasonous offspring from prison as they will slay any new legitimate heir. Eleanor confirms this, thrusting a verbal dagger into her husband by telling him not to worry, they will wait till he is dead to do so.

Henry recognizes the peril to his plan and confronts all three sons at once, holding them at bay three knives to one. Condemning them to death, he raises his sword over Richard first, but brings the blade down harmlessly upon Richard's mailed shoulder. Weeping, he lets the threesome escape.

Realizing all his hopes are lost, and that he has been successfully checked by Eleanor, he is resigned, and falls pitifully into her arms.

In the morning she leaves on her barge, waving affectionately while he bellows cheerful nonsenses, each realizing their love for one-another and their mutual plight as beholden to the other's spell. They will resume their jousting next year.




The original stage production had not been a success, getting a bad review in The New York Times and losing $150,000. Producer Martin Poll optioned Goldman's novel Waldorf for the movies. They discussed Lion in Winter, which Poll had read and loved. He hired Goldman to write a screenplay.


Poll was meant to make a film with Joseph Levine and Peter O'Toole, The Ski Bum (which would be written by James Goldman's brother William). That project fell through and Poll suggested they do Lion in Winter instead.[3] O'Toole, who was 36, and had portrayed Henry II in 1964's Becket, plays him at age 50.

In October 1967, the actors rehearsed at Haymarket Theatre in London.[4] Production started in November 1967[5] and continued until May 1968.[6]


The film was shot at Ardmore Studios in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, and on location in Ireland, Wales (Marloes Sands),[7] and France at Abbaye de Montmajour, Arles; Château de Tarascon, Carcassonne; and Saône-et-Loire. In an interview Peter O'Toole said that Katharine Hepburn, who was sixty years old, was at her best early in the morning while he favoured starting work in the afternoon. They came to a compromise and shot their scenes from 8:30 to 16:00 each day.

The sculpted stone figures which appear during the main title sequence were discovered by the director along a driveway near a shooting location in France. They are portrayed as appearing on interior walls of the castle in the film.[8]

After the seeing the completed film, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman offered Timothy Dalton the role of James Bond for the first time, as a replacement for Sean Connery in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Dalton declined because he felt he was too young, although he would later be cast in the role in The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989).[9]


Box office[edit]

The film premiered on 30 October 1968 (29 December 1968 London premiere).

The film earned an estimated $6.4 million in distributor rentals in the domestic North American market during its initial year of release.[10] It was the 14th most popular movie at the U.S. box office in 1969.[11]


Renata Adler of The New York Times wrote that the film was "for the most part, outdoorsy and fun, full of the kind of plotting and action people used to go to just plain movies for."[12]

Variety called it "an intense, fierce, personal drama put across by outstanding performance of Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. Anthony Harvey, a relatively new director, has done excellent work with a generally strong cast, literate adaptation by the author, and superb production values assembled by Martin H. Poll, who produced for Joseph E. Levine presentation under the Embassy banner."[13]

Roger Ebert gave the film 4 stars out of 4, writing in 1968, "One of the joys which movies provide too rarely is the opportunity to see a literate script handled intelligently. 'The Lion in Winter' triumphs at that difficult task; not since 'A Man for All Seasons' have we had such capable handling of a story about ideas. But 'The Lion in Winter' also functions at an emotional level, and is the better film, I think."[14]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times declared, "Top honors for the most literate movie of the year, and for the finest and most imaginative and fascinating evocation of an historical time and place, can be awarded this very day to 'The Lion in Winter.'"[15]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was less positive, writing that the film miscalculated in attempting to elevate the melodramatic plot "with serious emotions, more or less authentic costumes and settings, pseudo-Stravinsky music, and historical pomp. And it just won't do to have actors carrying on as if this were a genuine, 'deep' historical play on the order of 'A Man for All Seasons' ... They're playing a camp historical play as if it were the real thing—delivering commercial near-poetry as if it were Shakespeare."[16]

In a mixed review for The Monthly Film Bulletin, David Wilson called Katharine Hepburn's performance "perhaps the crowning achievement of an extraordinary career" but described the film as a whole as being "essentially a piece of highly polished theatricality, and not much else if one looks beyond its insistently sophisticated surface gloss."[17]

Rotten Tomatoes collected 43 reviews through October 2021, amalgamating to a 91% approval and an average rating of 8.2/10. The critical consensus reads, "Sharper and wittier than your average period piece, The Lion in Winter is a tale of palace intrigue bolstered by fantastic performances from Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, and Anthony Hopkins in his big-screen debut."[18]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Martin Poll Nominated [19]
Best Director Anthony Harvey Nominated
Best Actor Peter O'Toole Nominated
Best Actress Katharine Hepburn Won[a]
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium James Goldman Won
Best Costume Design Margaret Furse Nominated
Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical) John Barry Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Katharine Hepburn[b] Won [20]
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Best Screenplay James Goldman Nominated
Best Cinematography Douglas Slocombe Nominated
Best Costume Design Margaret Furse Nominated
Best Film Music John Barry Won
Best Sound Chris Greenham and Simon Kaye Nominated
United Nations Award Anthony Harvey Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Awards Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Douglas Slocombe Won [21]
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Production Martin Poll Won [22]
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Anthony Harvey Won [23]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won [24]
Best Director – Motion Picture Anthony Harvey Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Peter O'Toole Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Katharine Hepburn Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Jane Merrow Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture James Goldman Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture John Barry Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Drama Nominated [25]
Top Female Dramatic Performance Katharine Hepburn Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 7th Place [26]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won [27]
Best Actor Peter O'Toole Nominated
Best Screenplay James Goldman Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama Won [28]
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards Best British Screenplay Won [29]


The Academy Film Archive preserved The Lion in Winter in 2000.[30]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Map of France in 1180. The Vexin is located northwest of Paris, between it and Rouen, straddling the Duchy of Normandy and the Royal Domaine surrounding Paris.

Though the background and the eventual destinies of the characters are generally accurate, The Lion in Winter is fictional: while there was a Christmas court at Caen in 1182, there was none at Chinon in 1183. In reality, Henry had many mistresses and many illegitimate children; the "Rosamund" mentioned in the film was his mistress until she died. The Revolt of 1173–1174 provides the historical background leading to the play's events. There was also a second rebellion, when Young Henry and Geoffrey revolted in 1183, resulting in Young Henry's death. While some historians have theorized that Richard was homosexual, it is not certain.

Geoffrey died in 1186 in a jousting tournament held in Paris (with some speculation that Geoffrey was involved in plotting against Henry with Philip at the time). A third rebellion against Henry by Richard and Philip in 1189 was finally successful, and a decisively defeated Henry retreated to Chinon in Anjou, where he died. Richard the Lionheart succeeded Henry II, but spent very little time in England (perhaps 6 months), after which he became a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade, leading the campaign after the departure of Philip. Richard won some considerable victories, but he did not succeed in retaking Jerusalem. John finally succeeded Richard in 1199 after Richard's death. During his unsuccessful reign he lost most of his father's holdings in Northern France and angered the English barons, who revolted and forced him to accept and add his seal to Magna Carta. John is also known for being the villain in the Robin Hood legends. Lastly, William Marshal, who during the film is harried about by Henry II, outlived the English main characters and eventually ruled England as regent for the young Henry III.[31]

Eleanor was only released after Henry's death by Richard.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Joseph, Robert. "Films Come to the Emerald Isle: Emerald Isle Welcomes Films"". Los Angeles Times. 17 March 1968. p. q26.
  2. ^ "The Lion in Winter (1968)". The Numbers. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  3. ^ Smith, C. (Dec 1, 1968). "'Lion in winter'--play that refused to die". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 156111474.
  4. ^ Bergan 1996, p. 155.
  5. ^ Callan 2004, pp. 90, 100, 105.
  6. ^ Wapshott 1984, p. 145.
  7. ^ Wales hosts Hollywood blockbusters
  8. ^ Director Anthony Harvey, audio commentary in Lion in Winter, 2000.
  9. ^ Field, Matthew (2015). Some kind of hero : 007 : the remarkable story of the James Bond films. Ajay Chowdhury. Stroud, Gloucestershire. ISBN 978-0-7509-6421-0. OCLC 930556527.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  11. ^ "The World's Top Twenty Films", Sunday Times, [London, England], 27 September 1970: 27. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. accessed 5 April 2014
  12. ^ Adler, Renata (October 31, 1968). "Screen: James Goldman's 'Lion in Winter' Arrives". The New York Times: 54.
  13. ^ "The Lion In Winter". Variety: 6. October 23, 1968.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 4, 1968). "The Lion In Winter". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
  15. ^ Champlin, Charles (December 17, 1968). "'The Lion in Winter' Opens Run". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  16. ^ Kael, Pauline (November 9, 1968). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 189.
  17. ^ Wilson, David (March 1969). "The Lion In Winter". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 36 (422): 50.
  18. ^ "The Lion in Winter (1968)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 6 October 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  19. ^ "The 41st Academy Awards (1969) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
  20. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1969". British Academy Film Awards. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  21. ^ "Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film" (PDF). British Society of Cinematographers. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  22. ^ "David di Donatello Awards 1968". Mubi. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  23. ^ "The 21st Annual DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  24. ^ "The Lion in Winter". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  25. ^ "The Lion in Winter – Awards". IMDb. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  26. ^ "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures :: Awards". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on December 18, 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  27. ^ "1968 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  28. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America Awards. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  29. ^ "Writers' Guild Awards 1969". Writers' Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  30. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  31. ^ Painter, S., William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron & Regent of England, p.268


External links[edit]