Lucky 13 Film Club: The Lion in Winter

Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for Best Actress as Eleanor of Aquitaine. James Goldman won an Oscar for adapting his own play. John Barry‘s score won for Best Score. It’s 1182 and King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is the scene-chewing roaring lion passionately defending his kingdom while three sons vie for the crown and a sour wife is his greatest adversary.  Ultimately, it’s a love story between a husband and wife whose bitter disappointments in each other flail out to those around them. Their manipulations tarnish the relationships between their three sons. Betrayal is the prominent theme. My heart goes out to son number one, Richard, played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins and Alais, the pretty pawn by Jane Merrow.  

As a conversation starter, I focused on the CINEMATOGRAPHY by Douglas Slocombe (Indiana Jones, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Great Gatsby, Never Say Never Again). It helps when you film at the gorgeous locale of Wales and England. The sweeping battle scene on the beach was impressive with black horses and sardonic son number 2 (John Castle) looking on.  Even in winter with barren trees and frosty glens and a cold castle, the wide angles were beautiful. However, I think his use of close-ups provide a balanced contrast and interesting angles. For example, I liked Eleanor at her dressing table having a monologue in a mirror. The turn of a skeleton key in the dungeon door. The shocked face of Richard behind the curtain as he learns his lover has betrayed him. The face of King Henry on his knees out on the ramparts and the camera pulls away from his face as he looks up to the stars. Did you like the cinematography? How about that pulling back technique Slocombe employs?  Did you find it distracting? 

Please welcome KATE LOVETON who has a great blog and where she shows off her creative writing talents. This was her idea to form a film club where we could discuss with one another a topic and a film. Kate focused on the DIALOGUE, a huge part of the success of the film:


What a pleasure it was to watch this intelligent film once again. There is so much to like about “The Lion in Winter,” and many aspects worthy of discussion:  staging, costuming, the score.  Best of all is the excellent acting and crisp, often biting dialogue.  It is by turns witty, wise, searing and venomous.
Henry II and Eleanor, once lovers, are now old-age combatants; rather than swords, their weapon of choice is the tongue – and each employs it well. When asked by his mistress how his wife is, Henry (who has kept Eleanor locked away in a nunnery for ten years) responds corrosively, “Decaying, I hope.”
Ah, but Eleanor gives as good as she gets.  She tells Henry’s mistress, “Henry’s bed is his province. He can people it with sheep for all I care. Which, on occasion, he has done.”  Ouch!
Confronted with the treachery and sodomy of her offspring, Eleanor, a master of understatement, dryly remarks, “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”
I think my favorite line was uttered by Henry after he’d locked his conniving sons up in the wine cellar. (Henry apparently has a talent for locking up family members). His mistress asks where Henry’s sons are. “The royal boys are aging with the royal port,” he replies.
If Henry and Eleanor are masters of waspish dialogue, their sons are masters of deception and murderous intent toward one another. When one of her sons pulls a knife on the other, the would-be victim whines that his brother was carrying a knife. The wearied Eleanor remarks, “Of course he has knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!”
Just so… and now it is 2015, and we are still barbarians.
Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole employ just the right shadings of tone to convey sarcasm, anguish, fear… and the underpinnings of sexuality. Hepburn’s Eleanor is a dangerous woman… and yet beneath the vinegar and venom, one gets the impression that she still burns for Henry. Her lust no longer physical, it plays itself out in verbal jousting.  Her love is a deadly thing. Hepburn makes us pity and admire her indomitable Eleanor, even when we most dislike her.
And Henry? O’Toole does a masterful job. It was a revelation to me to see O’Toole as the expansive, bellowing, manipulative Henry. He chewed up the scenery… yet he never made Henry a clown. When Henry realizes just how estranged his boys are from him, he stumbles away and cries out, “I’ve lost my boys.” In that moment, my heart went out to him.  He never really had them to begin with.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the dialogue and cinematography?

Westworld vs. Westworld


I wonder how closely the 2016 HBO series, Westworld,  advertised as an hour-long, dark odyssey, will follow the Michael Crichton 1973 classic starring Yul Brynner and James Brolin?   In Crichton’s film, robots flood the park and guests sin with no consequences. Within the complex theme park visited by the wealthy who choose to indulge their fantasies either in a toga lounging in Roman gardens; as a knight or lady cavorting in a medieval castle; or as a root’n – toot’n cowboy in the Old West, murder is permissible.

Underground labs and tunnels connect the three sections of the park with robots to guests.
Underground labs manipulate and control the robots. Or do they?

White-coat scientists and technicians monitor and repair the robots programmed with one command–to serve the guests who live out their fantasies without moral or legal ramifications. To those who can afford the $7,000 a day price tag, they buy the freedom to indulge in the seven deadly sins with no worries. If this sounds like a quasi-Disney World/Las Vegas hedonistic theme park to you, you wouldn’t be far off. The low-budget, 1973 Westworld  plays out this science fiction scenario without the gore–just great special effects. With a PG rating, the techno-horror story builds suspense by the creepy performance of Yul Brynner, the first terminator, the A.I. gunslinger who stalks guests John Blane (James Brolin) and Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin). Michael Crichton will replay this theme supplanting robots with dinosaurs in his 1990 masterpiece, Jurassic Park.  

Special Effects 

Pixelization in film began over forty years ago with a two-minute perspective of the robot in Crichton’s Westworld. I enjoyed the story behind the birth of digital effects in David Price’s article, “How Michael Crichton’s Westworld Pioneered Modern Special Effects” in THE NEW YORKER.

It can be difficult for some to watch science fiction in television and film created decades ago. Delivering the future is problematic; most old films representing a hi-tech world look silly through today’s lens. The future is now, and it is easy to pick apart inaccurate predictions and label the production design as juvenile. I avoid this by considering the ethical issues presented. In this case, “What is real and what rights will A.I. have?” It’s a popular theme in science fiction, no doubt because we’re on the brink of the A.I. breakthrough.

What do we imagine our world will be like forty years from now? Most likely, today’s technology will seem quaint. Perspective is everything.

HBO “Westworld” 

Ed Harris, as the 2016 ston- faced gunslinger.

Ed Harris, as the 2016 stone-faced gunslinger.

Here’s a trailer tease of season one:

It’s almost 2016, and the story has a new life in the medium of television. HBO television. I doubt it will carry a PG rating this time. I imagine this version will be a hybrid with a dystopian feel like The Walking Dead combined with the sexiness of Game of Thrones. The principle cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, and James Marsden. Chris Nolan’s brother, Jonathan Nolan, serves as executive producer/writer/director. I haven’t seen his crime drama, Person of Interest, so I can’t comment on his abilities. With J. J. Abrams‘s stamp on the project, I suspect audiences will love it or hate it.  I like the looks of the setting, the cast–love Evan Rachel Wood–so, I will check it out, and see if it sticks with me. In fact, Jim’s brother is prop-master on the show; maybe I’ll get lucky and get to visit the set.

What are your thoughts about the 1973 version and next year’s series? 

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