Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon

For the third year in a row, Margaret Perry of her self-titled blog is doing the Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon in honor of the four-time Oscar winner's birthday. This time around I decided to chip in. My film of choice?

(1968, dir. Anthony Harvey)

Of Hepburn's extensive filmography, this is one of my favorite films of hers. (The Philadelphia Story is also among that list.) Though like a number of her later films, it tends to get overlooked in favor of Bringing Up Baby or Adam's Rib. Why that is, I can't say.

A sequel of sorts to Becket from four years earlier, The Lion in Winter has more of a wit to it than Peter Glenville's film. (The script by James Goldman, who wrote the play the film's based on, certainly helped.) But perhaps the best way to sum up Harvey's film is to describe it as a 12th century-set version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (albeit with considerably less alcohol and more murderous intent).

Peter O'Toole earned his third of eight Oscar nominations for reprising his role of Henry II. (He was also nominated for Becket.) Between swapping barbs with his estranged wife and trying to pick his successor, Henry is simply a man who has a tumultuous (to say the least) personal life. (O'Toole turned thirty-six the year The Lion in Winter was released but he got the weariness of Henry's fifty years down pat.) Quite frankly, this was the role that should've gotten O'Toole Oscar glory.

Hepburn, meanwhile, earned her eleventh of twelve Oscar nominations (and third of four wins) for her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine. She may appear harmless (Hepburn turned sixty-one the year the film was released) but beneath her weathered features lies a cunning mind. After all, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Nigel Terry (who passed away last year) plays John, Henry's favorite of his sons. He looks like he's next in line for the throne (which, as history shows, he does get eventually) but he's none too thrilled when that opportunity is suddenly taken away from him. But to what extent will this spoiled brat go for revenge?

John Castle plays Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, the least favorite son of both Henry and Eleanor. He shows throughout the film that he certainly has a clever enough mind to possibly become king (he'd rather be chancellor), up to the point where he plots to overthrow his father. Will he succeed?

Long before his immortalizing role of Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins plays Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor's favorite of her sons. As Henry mentions at one point, Eleanor basically smothered Richard with motherly love when he was younger. But how much has her maternal devotion affected him as an older man?

Making his film debut is Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France. Nearly twenty years before becoming James Bond, his Philip is of the conniving variety. He's not in the film very much but he manages to stand out amongst the likes of O'Toole, Hepburn and Hopkins. (And that's not an easy task.)

The Lion in Winter tends to gets overlooked among the more famous films of its leads like Lawrence of Arabia and The Philadelphia Story. And being released at a time when filmmakers and actors were pushing the limits of the newly-minted MPAA rating system, it looks tame in comparison to other titles of 1968 like If.... and Rosemary's Baby. But boy, the words thrown around throughout is something rarely seen in costume dramas nowadays.

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