Theatre: The Lion in Winter

"What family doesn't have its ups and downs?"
Eleanor, vastly understating the issue in The Lion in Winter

A 1966 play written by James Goldman about the troubles in the family of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry's three sons, John, Geoffrey and Richard, all aspire to be king. (A fourth son, Henry the Young King, is recently deceased.) Both he and his wife favour a different son; since she has instigated rebellion against him before, Henry had her locked up for ten years, but this experience hasn't dampened her spirit. The power play begins in earnest in 1183, when this lovely family goes to celebrate Christmas in their palace at Chinon with Philip Capet, King of France, whose older sister Alais is Henry's mistress.

The play was made into a film released in 1968, starring Peter O'Toole as Henry and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor; James Goldman wrote the adapted screenplay. It was also the film debut of Timothy Dalton (as Philip of France) and Anthony Hopkins (as Richard). In 2003, it was adapted again for TV, with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close.

The Lion in Winter provides examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: Princess Alais and Richard, to fulfill an old bargain between Henry and Philip. Richard refuses to go through with it if it means giving up the Aquitaine.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: An astounding amount between Henry and Eleanor.
  • Black Vikings: In the 1999 Broadway revival of the play, African-American actors Laurence Fishburne and Chuma Hunter-Gault were cast as Henry and Richard, respectively. The actors who played Eleanor, Geoffrey and John were white.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Only one character is actually killed on screen in the 1968 film: the guard outside the cellar where Henry's sons are locked in. Despite the lack of blood, the scene is brutal and disturbing.
  • Butt Monkey: John. Historical in that as the youngest son he'd traditionally inherit the least (hence the real-life nickname of "Lackland"). Made painful in this telling because Henry's attempts to favor him over Richard and Geoff have turned John into a clueless spoiled brat.
    John: Who says poor John? Don't everybody sob at once! My God, if I went up in flames there's not a living soul who'd pee on me to put the fire out!
    Richard: Let's strike a flint and see!
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Eleanor.
  • Chess Motifs:
    Alais: Kings, queens, knights everywhere and I'm the only pawn.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Geoffrey, even more than the others.
  • Cue the Flying Pigs: When Eleanor warns Henry that his sons will rise against him if he goes to Rome, he says it will happen "the day that pigs get wings." "There'll be pork in the treetops come morning," Eleanor says.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Lampshaded by Philip when he hides multiple people behind multiple hangings.
  • Deadly Decadent Court
  • Deadpan Snarker: Henry, Eleanor and Geoffrey have honed their sarcasm into fine-cutting weapons. Philip and Richard aren't as clever with words but can give as well as they can take. If you're John and Alais, you can't keep up.
  • Defiant to the End: "When the fall is all there is, it matters."
    • Richard refusing to flinch when Henry raises his sword to execute him for Richard's rebellion.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: There are presents (never opened), holly hanging and a tree, but little time for rejoicing.
    Eleanor: No one else is caroling tonight. It might as well be Lent.
  • Dueling-Stars Movie: Two of Hollywood's best.
  • Dysfunctional Family: You think?
  • Evil Matriarch: Eleanor, at least as Richard sees her.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Subverted: Philip made more and more people hide behind a curtain and then exposed things with every newcomer, while also showing the latest curtain-inhabitant that he was overheard himself. (Good job if you understood that sentence after reading it only once!).
  • Family Disunion
  • Gambit Pileup: Pretty much every character is running one, and it's complicated by the fact that Henry, Eleanor, Geoffrey and Philip are particularly capable of Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: when it's Eleanor of Aquitaine, a Real-Life Chess Master and trouble-maker...
  • Good Feels Good: Henry claims that, since he hasn't been to war in years, he's learned "how good it is to write a law, or make a tax more fair."
  • Grey and Gray Morality: None of the characters are particularly decent people, especially towards each other. And their plotting can actually get other people killed.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: When Henry and Eleanor put away the Snark Daggers and break out the Ham Cannons, there may as well be no-one else in the room.
  • He's Got a Weapon!: Complete with the classic response.
    John: A knife! He's got a knife!
    Eleanor: Of course he has a knife! He always has a knife! We all have knives! It's 1183 and we're barbarians!
  • Historical-Domain Character: The main characters, including Richard The Lion Heart.
    • Katherine Hepburn is a descendant of Eleanor Of Aquitaine - not only through Eleanor's marriage to Henry II but also Eleanor's earlier marriage to the French King Louis VII.
  • I Have No Son: Henry tells his sons he is disowning them all upon learning they were plotting against him.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Eleanor does this to Henry, to his displeasure.
  • I Know You Know I Know "I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family." Just so you know.
  • Improvised Weapon: John tries to kill Geoffrey with a candlestick.
  • In the Back: Or perhaps, better said, 'in the front', since everybody is quite honest about wanting to deceive each other.
  • Jacob and Esau
  • Like an Old Married Couple: They are, but despite the constant bickering, it's clear Henry and Eleanor still have feelings for each other.
  • The Lost Lenore: Rosamund Clifford, who has been dead for seven years but still remembered for being more beautiful and more loved by Henry than Eleanor. Eleanor likes to pile abuse on her for being Welsh, though.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Eleanor.
    Richard: You're so deceitful you can't ask for water when you're thirsty.
    • Henry, Philip, and Geoffrey, though male, qualify too.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Geoffrey is a painfully pure example of this trope.
    Geoffrey: It's not the power I feel deprived of... it's the mention I miss. There's no affection for me here: You wouldn't think I'd want that, would you?
  • Might Makes Right:
    Henry: The Vexin's mine.
    Philip: By what authority?
    Henry: It's got my troops all over it: that makes it mine.
  • Momma's Boy: Richard as a child. Not any more now that he's grown up, though.
  • Mood Whiplash: Like crazy. Generally from laugh-out-loud funny to crushing tragedy in the course of just a few lines.
  • My Beloved Smother
  • Oedipus Complex: Richard probably has one of the worst cases in all of history.
  • Offing the Offspring: Subverted. Henry sentences his sons to be executed for treason, but finds he can't do it.
  • One-Liner: Many, so many.
  • Parental Favoritism: They're very blatant about it and a major driving force in the plot.
  • The Pawn: Alais, as she says so herself. She claims that because of this, she has nothing to lose.
  • Playing Gertrude: A male version of this, as Peter O'Toole is only five years older than Anthony Hopkins.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Geoffrey has a rather good one.
  • Queer Romance: Philip and Richard.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: Largely averted. Henry, despite being the King Of England, always wears rather simple, unadorned clothing, with fingerless gloves and a rather unkempt appearance. When he goes out to greet the King of France (who is dressed well in royal blues), an extra coat and a simple crown is all he dons.
  • Revenge: Philip went through a LOT of trouble to screw Henry over... just because Henry constantly picked on Philip's daddy years prior. Could also be a very subtle case of Feuding Families.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Philip using Richard to get to Henry.
  • Royal Brat: John is portrayed as a spoiled, block-headed teenager who's a constant, unwitting pawn in his elder brothers' schemes.
  • Royally Screwed Up
  • Sarcastic Clapping
  • Seen It All: Henry II is so old he's got ten years on the Pope, and uses those years of experience in dealing with Philip.
    Eleanor: Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn. (smiles) But the troops were dazzled...
  • Sibling Rivalry: played at the level of a contact sport, if not outright war.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Becket where Peter O'Toole played Henry II as a young man.
  • Straight Gay: Richard and Philip both.
  • Succession Crisis: Primogeniture was not the law in 1183, and Henry is worried that his sons might fight a civil war after he dies. It doesn't help that the parents can't agree about which son should inherit: Henry prefers John while Eleanor prefers Richard. Making it worse is Henry's idea of having more children with Alais.
  • Sword over Head: Henry, having passed judgment on his three sons for treason, raises his sword to strike Richard down...
  • Tearjerker: Alais breaks down and cries in her rival Eleanor's arms and calls her 'Maman' reminding us that Eleanor is also the only mother Alais can remember. Talk about messed up....
  • Unwitting Pawn: Princes John (for Geoffrey) and Richard (for Philip).
  • Warrior Prince: Richard.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: For all the sound and fury of the story, absolutely nothing actually changes... except for the poor nameless guard who gets killed when Eleanor goes to free the princes.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: King Philip of France is only seventeen, but one of the more able plotters.
  • Woman Scorned: One of the reasons Eleanor is pissed. Richard calls her "Medea to the teeth."
  • World of Ham: But it works.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Henry plans to marry again and have another son. Eleanor states that he's too old and won't be around to protect him.
    Eleanor: And when you die, which is regrettable but necessary, what will happen to frail Alais and her pruny prince? You can't think Richard's going to wait for your grotesque to grow.
    Henry II: You wouldn't let him do a thing like that.
    Eleanor: Let him? I'd push him through the nursery door.

Alternative Title(s):

The Lion In Winter