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The Lion In Winter

The Lion In WinterPrepare to be bowled over by the
  television mini-series version of
James Goldmans hit Broadway play
  The Lion In Winter about Henry II, based
  on his Oscar-winning screenplay and
  starring mega-actors Patrick Stewart
  and Glenn Close — who needs swords
  when you can squeeze another ounce
  of venom into the already-caustic

NOTHING SHORT OF MAGNIFICENT would suffice to describe the television mini-series version of the hit Broadway play The Lion In Winter, finely directed by Andrei Konchalovsky (The Odyssey; Maria's Lovers). This historical drama has everything: a vengeful and formidable father; a coldly calculating mother… And three sons, all ruthlessly ambitious rivals for the throne.

In the winter of 1183 a family are gathering for the Christmas court, during which the ageing King Henry II (Patrick Stewart: X-Men, The Last Stand) is to announce his successor. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Glenn Close: Damages), who has been in prison at Salisbury for the last ten years for leading a coup against him — along with their sons Prince Richard, the Lion Hearted Governor of Acquitaine (Andrew Howard), and the shallow, self-serving Prince Geoffrey (John Light), Duke of Brittany — has been escorted to the castle at Chinon for her annual taste of freedom to spend time with her family.

The feckless, bumbling Prince John (Rafe Spall) is at his father's side and expects to be chosen over Richard because he is his father's favourite — although he claims to have no sense of family. But Henry uses the people around him as pawns in a sadistic game with Eleanor. Even his much-flaunted mistress Alais (Julia Vysotskaia), whom he claims to be his "greatest love", will be exploited as the king scores points against those around him.

At stake is a kingdom that stretches from Scotland through half the provinces of France, South to the jewel in the crown: Aquitaine. And Henry's overriding concern is to keep the kingdom intact.

As the three sons battle for attention Alais welcomes her venomous brother, King Philip of France (Jonathan Rhys Meyers: The Tudors) to the gathering. With his own agenda, including the return of his dowry unless there is a marriage for his sister, he will thrust his own barbed spite into the hearts of the unwitting players.

The power-hungry Richard, John and Geoffrey share not only the same bloodline but also their parents' gift for malice and treachery. Taught by masters, they will do anything and everything to stake their claim. Henry's sons are products of their parents' indifference: a gay Richard; weak John and deceitful Geoffrey.

As the gathering degenerates further into an emotional gauntlet for all — and Henry mercilessly wields the authority that has made him the greatest and most dangerous power in a thousand years — it becomes an exorcism of deep-rooted failures and long-held resentments as pretensions and inner demons are shrewdly stripped away. Before the celebrations are over a marriage, a love affair, a family and an empire — and even lives — will be in jeopardy.

Patrick Stewart as Henry IIThe Lion In Winter recounts the treacherous goings on in the court of King Henry II as his three sons vie for the throne. Intense, darkly humorous and wickedly ironic, the production saw Glenn Close rewarded with the Golden Globe for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television — she portrays beautifully the haughty, disdainful Queen Eleanor with biting cynicism and acerbic sarcasm laying in wait to verbally ambush her husband. The pair relish the baiting; too like each other for comfort and yet with a mutual grudging respect.

The Lion In Winter features the most beautiful music; memorable battles and a story that you just couldn't make up — treachery, violence, injustice and a plot that pits brother against brother and father against mother and son. A gritty and thoroughly absorbing film of historical splendour.

The Lion in Winter is played as it should be — to the hilt, with swords (and words) unsheathed — by an excellent cast headlined by the incomparable Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. There is some male and female nudity, but little else to distract.

The incredible dialogue is witty and cutting as characters spar pointedly with words. When Richard attacks John with a knife, the king seems surprised. "Of course we all have knives," says Eleanor. "It is 1183 and we are barbarians." And, as she delivers the final nail in the coffin, she remarks reflectively: "What family doesn't have its ups and downs?"

The Lion In Winter also features: Antal Konrad as Toastmaster; Soma Marko as Young John; and Clive Wood as William Marshall. Costume Design is by Consolata Boyle; Music by Richard Hartley; Director of Photography is Sergei Kozlov; Executive Producers are Robert Halmi Sr, Robert Halmi Jr, Martin Poll, Patrick Stewart, Wendy Neuss-Stewart; Produced by Dyson Lovell; Screenplay by James Goldman based on his play; Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky.

The Lion In Winter comes to DVD courtesy of Brightspark Productions and will be released on 27 April, 2009. Certificate: 12 | RRP: £19.99

"The Lion In Winter… A gritty and thoroughly absorbing film of historical splendour… The incredible dialogue is witty and cutting…" — Maggie Woods, MotorBar