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King Henry II (Patrick Stewart) keeps his wife, Eleanor (Glenn Close) locked away in the towers because of her frequent attempts to overthrow him. With Eleanor out of the way he can have his dalliances with his young mistress (Yuliya Vysotskaya). Needless to say the queen is not pleased, although she still has affection for the king. Working through her sons, she plots the king's demise and the rise of her second and preferred son, Richard (Andrew Howard), to the throne. The youngest son, John (Rafe Spall), an overweight buffoon and the only son holding his father's affection is the king's choice after the death of his first son, young Henry. But John is also overly eager for power and is willing to plot his father's demise with middle brother, Geoffrey (John Light) and the young king of France, Phillip (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Geoffrey, of course sees his younger brother's weakness and sees that route as his path to power. Obviously political and court intrigue ensues
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The Lion in Winter movie full length review - Battle of the wits
Recap: It is soon Christmas and Henry II decides to hold court at Chinon. There he intends to enforce his wish to crown his youngest son John as his heir and to make John marry Alais, a French princess and Henry's lover.
Unfortunately, he is not the only one with interests in the succession. Both Richard and Geoffrey, John's elder brothers, want to be king. And the queen Eleonor, imprisoned by Henry since hers (and Richards and Geoffreys last uprising) has her own intentions. And then there is the young French king Philip that intends to enforce Henry's deal with Philip's father Louis that Alais should marry Richard. The game is set and there are too many players. The only thing to be sure about is that everyone looks out for themselves.
Comments: Set in the middle ages you almost think that they will solve every quarrel with swords, but this movie has almost none of it. Instead it his an entrenched battle of the wits with too many combatants so that no one never can be sure of who's trench they're in. Alliances are made and broken on a whim and everyone evolves around one thing. The throne. There are two main combatants, Henry and Eleonor, but the other has schemes of their own.
That makes for an interesting story. Everything is in motion. So even if it is long (originally a two piece series) it is never dull.
With no action to speak of, and the intrigue being all in words it is important that the characters is believable and all the pressure is on the actors. And they come through with flying colors. Both Stewart and Close are solid veterans, but they get strong support from all the others. No character, except for one, and that is the major flaw of the movie, is shallow or simple. All characters are deep, complex. There are secrets and hidden motives that evolve and surface during the movie. It is only John, Henry's favorite, that doesn't come through. If that is the directors intention or not I can't say but it is the weak point of the movie. Because John is too dumb and unfit to be king in almost any way conceivable. How he can be the intended heir is a conundrum. However, it is not only rational reasoning that command the players here, too much of it is emotions. Ant that, is another strength of the movie, because it builds to the unpredictability.
Well, I could go on, but the comment soon would be as long as the movie. In short, this was a nice surprise. Highly recommended for those that appreciate a battle in words and don't need explosions in every movie.