Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present the 55th anniversary of The Lion in Winter (1968), the Academy Award-winning historical drama (with comedy undertones) that netted screen legend Katharine Hepburn a third Best Actress Oscar. Hepburn leads a powerhouse cast including acting icon Peter O’Toole, and future major stars Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton in their film debuts. The film plays one night only Wednesday, November 29 at 7:00 PM at the Royal in West Los Angeles, with an introduction by author Jeremy Arnold, who will sign copies of his newly revised book “Christmas in the Movies.”
Set during Christmas 1183, England’s King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) summons a holiday court at Chilon in his continental empire to choose his successor among his three sons: Richard the Lionhearted (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John Castle), and his favorite, John (Nigel Terry). He releases his wife and the mother of their sons, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) from imprisonment for the occasion. Also in attendance are Henry’s mistress Alais (Jane Merrow), and her brother, the young King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton). As the principals squabble over the succession, intrigue, one-upmanship, and treachery are unleashed in the ensuing power struggle.
Based on a play by James Goldman (a Broadway flop in 1966), the film adaptation by Goldman and director Anthony Harvey, a former film editor (Lolita, Dr. Strangelove) just two years later proved to be a resounding success at both the box office and with critics of the day. Roger Ebert welcomed “a literate script handled intelligently,” while Renata Adler of The New York Times praised the “dramatic and comic energy” on display by the spirited cast. An effusive Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times awarded the film “top honors for the most literate movie of the year, and for the finest and most imaginative and fascinating evocation of an historical time and place.” AMPAS bestowed seven nominations including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Costume Design, with Oscar wins for Goldman’s screenplay, John Barry’s effective music score, and Hepburn’s Best Actress turn (her third win in an historic tie with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl).
Hepburn recalled what attracted her to the part of Eleanor of Aquitaine, “I think she had what I’ve always held as important: love of life but without sentimentality. She was something I’ve always tried to be–completely authentic.” O’Toole had the unique opportunity to revisit a character he had previously played (a younger Henry II in 1964’s Becket) and triumphed once again. Hepburn would go on to win a fourth Best Actress Oscar in 1981, while O’Toole had to settle for an Honorary Oscar in 2003 among eight nominations. Hopkins would become one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, winning two Best Actor Oscars in his lengthy career. Dalton enjoyed decades of success and movie immortality when he inherited the role of James Bond in 1987 for two films as Agent 007. In The Lion in Winter all four have a rousing good time, as the Village Voice noted, “scenery chewing has rarely been so artful.”