Coronado Island Film Festival invites you to settle in for some juicy, medieval intrigue as the 1968 historical drama, “The Lion in Winter,” brings a veritable Master Class in acting, directing and screenwriting to your living rooms. (Amazon Prime). Nominated for six Oscars and winner of three, Katharine Hepburn’s stellar performance as Eleanor of Aquitaine earned her the third of four Academy Awards in her long career.
What could be more fun than watching a no-holds-barred, back-and-forth between a king and queen, especially if it’s our favorite feminist, Eleanor of Aquitaine, giving as good as she gets from husband King Henry II of England (Peter O’Toole)! They trade some of the best, most delicious lines in all of moviedom, written by James Goldman, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, and delivered with sure-fire grace and wit by the film’s stars.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), renowned for her cultivated intelligence, fearlessness and great beauty, was queen to two kings and mother of two others. She was one of the most powerful and fascinating personalities of feudal Europe.
Immediately attracted to her character’s spirit and strength, Hepburn is cast opposite the irrepressible Peter O’Toole, who plays Eleanor’s second husband, King Henry II of England, which earned him a Best Actor nomination for the role. The on-screen chemistry between the two is palpable. O’Toole, then known to be somewhat of a tyrant on film sets, good-humoredly acknowledged that he had met his match in Hepburn, admitting in her presence that she reduced him “to a shadow of my former self. She has been sent by some dark fate to nag and torment me.” Her reply: “Don’t be so silly. We are going to get on very well. You are Irish and you make me laugh. In any case, I am on to you, and you to me.” The two did in fact have great respect for each other’s work and got on famously during the shoot, ending each day’s work with a cigarette and a glass of white wine together. She said his vigor and energy helped restore her own vitality at a time when she most needed it (shortly following the death of longtime love Spencer Tracy). The film marks the second time O’Toole played Henry II. The first was in “Becket” (1964), also earning him an Oscar nod.
Director Anthony Harvey (Oscar-nominated for Best Director), rather than cast well-known film actors in the supporting roles, opted for theater actors – thus bringing us the screen debuts of Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, Nigel Terry and John Castle. Hopkins was appearing in London’s National Theatre at the time, and needed the permission of Sir Lawrence Olivier to accept the movie role of Richard (The Lionhart), one of Henry’s and Eleanor’s sons.
The story takes place during a Christmas family reunion in the castle, meant to determine which of Henry and Eleanor’s three bickering sons would inherit the throne. Henry magnanimously allows Eleanor a temporary release from her 16-year imprisonment, where he kept her holed up in a castle apartment for allegedly plotting against him with their sons.
Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet shortly after her marriage to King Louis VII of France had ended, scandalizing observers. First, she was eleven years older than Henry, and, second, it was widely rumored she had been involved in an affair with Henry’s father (alluded to in one of many great lines in the film).
One of history’s most interesting couples, Henry and Eleanor are buried in side-by-side tombs at Fontevrault Abbey in France, which Eleanor had long patronized and where she died. The peacefully sleeping effigies atop the tombs hardly indicate the tumult and the shouting of their time together on earth.
Meantime, we hope this finds you continuing to be careful and safe as Coronado slowly “opens up” for the summer, and we look forward to the time when we’ll be watching movies again together in our beloved Village Theatre! Behind the scenes, we’re busily exploring options for the fifth anniversary celebration of Coronado Island Film Festival, Nov. 11-15. Visit coronadofilmfest.com for festival news and updates.
We have been humbled during these past several months by the efforts of this community to come together in support of one another, and we are beyond honored to be part of a city that embraces the Cultural Arts as a vibrant and vital part of the quality of life so unique and treasured in Coronado.!
Doug St. Denis is the founder and chairman of Coronado Island Film Festival and can be reached at email@example.com