The basic plot line tells the story of the various
problem relationships, intrigues and vigorous family infighting
between Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Henry the 2nd and their sons,
Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John Castle), and John (Nigel
Terry) over who would be the next heir to the throne. This all
takes place during their Christmas holiday together. Talk about
a dysfunctional family!
The stellar cast includes: Peter O'Toole, Katharine
Hopkins, Nigel Terry, Jane Merrow, Timothy Dalton, Nigel Stock,
This film, based on British history, is powered by the combination
of a powerful screenplay, by the late James Goldman, great direction
by Anthony Harvey and the absolutely wonderful casting, especially
Peter O'Toole, as Henry II and Katharine Hepburn, as Eleanor of
Aquitaine. Their performances are strong, eccentric and very memorable.
The film won Oscars for composer, John Barry, and writer, James
Goldman, and Katharine Hepburn. Peter O'Toole earned an Oscar
nomination for his terrific performance.
Hepburn co-won the Best Actress Oscar for her
well etched portrait of the conniving Eleanor of Aquitaine. Because
of her tendency to incite rebellions against her husband, he had
to keep her under house arrest, but lets her come home for Christmas.
O'Toole, as Henry II, King of England, at the
height of his career, is fascinating and dynamic, in one of his
best rules. O'Toole played the royal of Henry 2 previously in
BECKETT (1964). It is perhaps unfortunate that he has rarely had
such a good showcase for his talents since THE LION IN WINTER
with the exceptions of THE STUNTMAN(1980), and MY FAVORITE YEAR
John Castle, Anthony Hopkins, and Nigel Terry all do a terrific
job playing the couple's "Machiavellian-like" self-seeking,
ruthless, plotting sons, who make present day parents thankful
that their kids aren't like these three. Eleanor favors and encourages
her eldest, Richard, in his scheming, as he was the next in line,
after his oldest brother, Henry 111 was killed tragically. King
Henry favored his youngest, John, who he indulges and spoils a
lot. No one favors Geoffrey, because he is a little strange, to
say the least, and has serious personality flaws, such as being
sadistic, treacherous, deceitful and being a bit of a psychopath;
which is not great king material.
In real history, Geoffrey winds up leading an
attack against them all, but looses in battle. John does become
the reigning regent for a time, because King Richard was busy
fighting in the Crusades. Prince John abused his people. In the
stories about Robin Hood, it was bad Prince John who was the villain,
who overtaxed the people. In fact, during Prince John's time on
the throne, people revolted and The Magna Carta was written, from
which our own Bill of Rights was inspired.
The film provided the film debuts for Timothy
Dalton, as the revenge-driven Philip II, King of France, who joins
in the underhanded games and schemes.
Anthony Hopkins, as Prince Richard, portrays
perfectly a man of "tortuous" inner conflicts, whose
fierce courage and fantastic ability in battle, hides his homosexual
Nigel Terry, who plays the youngest son, Prince
John, went on to play King Arthur in the wonderful movie, EXCALIBUR
My favorite scenes in the film are the dramatic
clashes between Hepburn and O'Toole. Loud, and with beautiful
use of language, the two great actors are like perfectly matched,
heavyweight boxers, battling it out to a draw in the movie arena.