DVD Review: The Lion in Winter (2003)

“Of course he has a knife! I have a knife. We all have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re all barbarians!”

It was more morbid curiosity that drew me to this 2003 TV movie remake of The Lion in Winter than anything, its most recent appearance on a London stage hardly setting the world alight, but a cast list that included John Light and Rafe Spall as well as the more luminary lights of Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart (taking the roles made famous by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in the 1968 film) added to the appeal. What was interesting though was how much I’d forgotten about James Goldman’s approach to this dynastic struggle, as humourous as it is historical.

So though it might appear dry – Henry II’s determination to overrule his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in naming their son John (of the Magna Carta) as his successor rather than the older Richard (of the Lionheart) – it’s actually a spiky family comedy-drama as the brothers, completed by Geoffrey the other one, duck and dive through the political machinations of their parents and the ever-present threat of Philip II of France whose sister Alais is contracted to be betrothed to whoever will be heir and is currently Henry’s mistress. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Lion in Winter (2003)”

Review: The Lion in Winter, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will take what Daddy gives you”

I have to start this review off with an apology to my Medieval History A-Level teacher Mrs Grist. Despite having spent two years studying the subject, and writing an extended essay on the Capetian King Philip Augustus (who appears as a young man in this play), precious little of the detail has remained in my head. Fortunately James Goldman’s The Lion In Winter, Trevor Nunn’s latest entry in his Theatre Royal Haymarket season, has a rather loose basis in history, coming from the Philippa Gregory-type school of soapy melodrama rather striving for historical accuracy, and so the vagueness of my recollections was just fine as this ends up being more of an Ayckbourn-style domestic conflict piece – Season’s Greetings but with a cast of historical royals instead.

Things get off to a rather shaky start with a huge amount of backstory text scrolling up the screen, which is surrounded by the cheapest-looking holly border straight out of a clip-art folder. It is a rather unwieldy way to convey a ton of information which if significant, ought to be clear anyway from strong playwriting. But in a nutshell, the play is set at Christmastime 1183 in the château of Chinon, Anjou in Western France where Henry II of England has kept his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, prisoner for a decade after she led a rebellion against him. Accompanying the warring couple are their three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John, who are all competing for their father’s favour in order to be named his successor and their guest, King Philip II of France, whose half-sister Alais just happens to be Richard’s fiancée and Henry’s mistress. And for two and a half hour, they all jockey for position with each other, trying to work out who will end up on top. Continue reading “Review: The Lion in Winter, Theatre Royal Haymarket”