A royal family tosses verbal barbs at each other in the award-winning film, out now from Kino Lorber

Power games are afoot in The Lion in Winter (1968), available now on BluRay through Kino Lorber. King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) has postponed making succession plans and tempers flare up between his family members. Estranged wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn) favors eldest son Richard (Anthony Hopkins) while Henry coddles youngest son John (Nigel Terry). Middle son Geoffrey (John Castle) realizes he won’t factor in to anyone’s plans, so creates his own schemes involving the French king Philip II (a dashing young Timothy Dalton).

Anthony Harvey’s production incorporates the feeling of James Goldman’s original play into a castle setting with cavernous halls. In an interview included with the BluRay, sound recordist Simon Kaye notes that the audio was all recorded live or using a temporary setup in a castle stairwell to accommodate for the acoustics of the space; no studio looping was done after the fact. Kaye says, “The beauty of Lion in Winter was the performers.”

Indeed, Hepburn and O’Toole expertly take on the complex lead roles. Harvey’s film is a masterclass in throwing verbal barbs; Hepburn is on another level as Eleanor drolly tells Henry, “How dear of you to let me out of jail.”

Hepburn’s character is allowed a depth missing from the characterization of Alais, the only other woman with a speaking role. Jane Merrow plays Philip’s half-sister and Henry’s younger lover who gets caught up in the palace intrigue. The actors in the roles of the princes aren’t all quite up to the task, either.

Terry’s performance as John is such that I wondered if someone instructed him to leave his mouth agape for the duration. There’s a certain lack of subtlety and shading in his performance as John. Hopkins and Castle hold their own in supporting roles with O’Toole and Hepburn, but Dalton is the happy surprise here as his attractive face hides a mind keen on deception and machinations.

It’s a good thing that the performances and screenplay are as memorable as they are, because the editing is fractured and the visuals tend to be dull — with a few exceptions. In one memorable scene, Eleanor commiserates with her mirrored reflection about growing older. Hepburn and O’Toole are what really make The Lion in Winter worth a revisit. The recently restored print on this release is so clean that the film appears younger than its 50 year age.

Special features on the Kino-Lorber 50th Anniversary BluRay:

  • 4K restored print
  • commentary from director Anthony Harvey
  • interview with sound recordist Simon Kaye
  • various trailers

Available from Kino Lorber or Amazon.

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