to be bowled over by the
television mini-series version of James
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
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
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.
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,