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Theatre / The Lion in Winter

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Henry and Eleanor at the very least appearing civil to each other.

"Well, what family doesn't have its ups and downs?"
Eleanor, vastly understating matters

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's original Broadway run featured Robert Preston as Henry, Rosemary Harris as Eleanor and Christopher Walken in his Broadway debut as Philip. It 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. It was actually O'Toole's second appearance as Henry — he also played the king in Becket, released four years earlier.


The Lion in Winter provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Philip and Richard definitely have a thing going on, but whose version of events is accurate and who is lying is left unclear—they both certainly have cause to lie.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love:
    • In front of her sons, Eleanor confesses that she loved — and still loves — their father.
    • Eleanor, pleading to win back the love of her favorite son Richard, to the point that she cuts her own wrist with a dagger to prove to him that this time she's telling the truth.
  • Arranged Marriage: Princess Alais and Richard, to fulfill an old bargain between Henry and Philip's father. Richard refuses to go through with it if it means giving up the Aquitaine.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The narrative itself condenses years of bloody conflict into an interpersonal struggle over a day or two.
    • Christmas trees first appeared in Germany in the 1500s.
    • Advertisement:
    • Henry announcing that he's got a decade on the Pope is a great line, but Henry is fifty and Lucius III, the Pope at the time, was 86.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Henry and Eleanor's love for each other seeps through occasionally... usually in the form of them hurting each other. It's very telling that Henry planning to anull his marriage to Eleanor is the thing that really hurts her, even after everything else.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: An astounding amount between Henry and Eleanor.
  • Betrayal by Offspring: Richard, Geoffrey, and John against Henry.
  • 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", though ironically he did become king after all, since Richard outlived Geoffrey but died childless). 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!
    • Also Geoffrey. John has Henry's support and Richard has Eleanor's, but:
    No one ever talks of crowns and mentions Geoff.
  • Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them: Henry and Eleanor in spades.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Eleanor grins throughout every scene, no matter how barbed her words.
  • Chess Motifs:
    Alais: Kings, queens, knights everywhere and I'm the only pawn.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Geoffrey, even more than the others. He promises to hitch his cart to whomever looks like winning at that particular moment.
  • 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.
  • Decadent Court: Tinged with reality. The trappings are as rough and medieval as the period allows, but the interpersonal dynamics are just as convoluted as you'd expect.
  • 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.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Richard and Philip and maybe Geoffrey as well. Not that the heterosexual characters are any more virtuous...
  • Destructive Romance: Henry and Eleanor obviously still love each other, and Eleanor barely even tries to hide it. However, it's mixed with resentment, mind games, scheming, and stubbornness on both sides. Their interactions toe the line between genuine affection and seeming like they're literally about to kill each other.
  • 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.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: Philip implies that Richard started feeling him up while he was knocked out after a hunting accident.
  • Dysfunctional Family: You think?
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Eleanor and Henry both love their children and each other, even if they all treat each other like shit. Henry also seems to genuinely love Alais on some level, and even Eleanor doesn't actually hate her like she does Rosamund. (She basically raised Alais, which probably explains why she has some affection for her in spite of herself.)
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Eleanor balks when Geoffrey and Richard suggest secretly killing Henry.
    • Henry can't bring himself to kill his own children, and lets them escape.
  • Everyone Laughs Ending: Not exactly the end one would expect in a political drama, but it does end with everyone laughing.
  • 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: You'd need a chart to map out which family members are conspiring with who to undermine one or more other family members, and there'd still a lot of overlap between allies and foes. And it's not your typical family squabbles over who gets great-grandmother's china cabinet, either—the stakes are crowns, countries, and one increasingly reluctant bride.
  • 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 Chessmaster 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.
  • Heroic BSoD: Henry flips his lid when Philip reveals that all of his sons have betrayed him. After huddling under a rampart, he wakes up everyone in the castle by kicking and screaming at them.
  • Hero of Another Story: William Marshal is a real person who acts as the understated Number Two for Henry and later Eleanor. What else did he do? Well, he was eulogized as "the greatest knight who ever lived" for a start. He would ultimately serve five kings (Henry II, Henry the Young King, Richard I, John, and Henry III), culminating in him becoming Regent for Henry III.
  • Heir Club for Men: Mentioned when Eleanor talks about her previous marriage to Louis VII, which produced only daughters, but not a significant part of the plot. Henry seems to take it as read that he and Alais will have a son, though.
  • He's Got a Weapon!: Complete with the classic "The Reason You Suck" Speech 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! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war, not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten.
    For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little? That's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.
  • The High Queen: Henry describes Eleanor as such, when they first met:
    Henry: He married out of love, a woman out of legend. Not in Alexandria, or Rome, or Camelot has there been such a queen.
  • 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.
  • Hot-Blooded: Henry and Richard, which, based on most historical accounts, is definitely Truth in Television.
  • 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.
  • Intimate Hair Brushing: Mentioned when Eleanor and Alais speak privately. Alais has been fostered at Henry and Eleanor's court for years, the intent having been for her to marry one of their sons (they couldn't agree on which), and Eleanor fondly recalls raising the girl: "I remember how I used to brush and braid this hair."
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Both Henry and Richard recall Eleanor's youthful beauty, and Eleanor looks back both fondly and bitterly on her glory days.
  • Jacob and Esau: Henry is trying to get John on the throne and Eleanor wants Richard to have it. (What about Geoffery, you may ask. What about him?)
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Well, Alais isn't a jerkass, but she does demand Henry kill his imprisoned sons. But she is absolutely correct that, even if she and Henry marry and she gives him an heir, if there are three disgruntled disinherited sons running around, the second Henry dies, she and the child would be in grave danger with no one to protect them.
  • The Lancer: William Marshal, who did serve Eleanor and then the Plantagenets for most of his life.
  • 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 de Clifford, who has been dead for seven years but is still remembered for being more beautiful and more loved by Henry than Eleanor. Eleanor likes to pile abuse on her for being Welsh, though.
  • Man Behind the Man: Geoffery wants to be the chancellor (since nobody's considering him in the tussle over the actual throne). Though it would be easier to be the true power with John as a king, he still wants the position if Richard wins out.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Henry, Philip, Geoffery, and Eleanor are the most flagrantly manipulative. As Henry says, it's the only way to be alive, fifty, and a king all at once. As for Eleanor...
    Richard: You're so deceitful you can't ask for water when you're thirsty.
    • Philip implies that his entire relationship with Richard is part of a long con to get revenge for Henry humiliating his father (Eleanor's first husband).
  • Medieval Morons: Utterly averted.
    • Even John isn't wholly stupid—as he points out, he can read several languages (hell, he can read period, and was the only person depicted in the story who ever learned English), he handcrafted a complicated mechanical Christmas gift for his father, and if nothing else, he's smart enough to realize that if he wants to be king, he's going to need help.
  • 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.
  • The Mistress:
    • Alais is Henry's mistress. Given that he's a king and this is the twelfth century, this wouldn't be a very big deal, except for the fact that she's also royalty, engaged to his son, and his wife helped raise her. They do seem to genuinely care for each other, though.
    • The Posthumous Character Rosamund was another one of Henry's mistresses. Eleanor loathed her, and still does even now that she's been dead for years. Even Henry wonders why she hates Rosamund in particular so much, given that she was by no means the first woman he had on the side, and Eleanor obviously knew that.
  • Modest Royalty: Henry, who dresses and acts like a peasant. This is exemplified in the scene where he greets King Phillip of France: Phillip arrives clean, well-coiffed, wearing his house colors amid a fanfare of trumpets and guards. Henry slaps on his crown at the last second and strolls out to meet him in the same rough tunic and trousers he wore the day before.
  • 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: Richard thinks of Eleanor this way. He's her favorite child, and she's trying to get at least the Aquitaine for him.
  • Offing the Offspring: Subverted. Henry sentences his sons to be executed for treason, but finds he can't do it.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Used liberally at the beginning of the film. It reappears at the climax when Henry sentences his sons to death.
  • One-Liner: Many, so many.
  • Only Sane Man: William Marshal, Henry's right-hand man. Despite his small role, he manages to convince Richard to come along quietly.
  • Parental Favoritism: They're very blatant about it and a major driving force in the plot.
  • Passive Aggressive Combat: Henry, Eleanor, Philip, and Geoffrey are masters of it.
  • The Pawn: Alais, as she says so herself. She claims that because of this, she has nothing to lose.
  • 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 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. Eleanor, meanwhile, is rarely seen outside of her scarlet finery, complete with immaculate white wimple and gold crown.
  • 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: Phillip 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: Any vestige of familial love is hopelessly entangled with an inability to trust one another's true motivations, and it colors every interaction between any of them. Even the most sincere declaration of loyalty is instantly shattered by the next political betrayal.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Richard, who's more of a soldier than a prince (this was one of his chief criticisms after he became king, funnily enough).
  • Sarcastic Clapping: Henry starts with a slow clap as Eleanor claims to concede and says he can have it all, increasing in speed and volume as she grows more despairing.
  • 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 has some interesting history herself. Her backstory involving the Crusades would count as a Noodle Incident if she hadn't given the audience Too Much Information...
    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.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: The only way Henry and Eleanor know how to interact.
  • Snow Means Death: The title The Lion in Winter symbolizes the fiery fighter Henry as he is forced to confront his inevitable death. It's no accident that the play takes place at Christmas—the winter solstice and the longest night of the year. The metaphor is made even more direct by the fact that one of the symbols of House Plantagenet was a lion.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Becket, where Peter O'Toole played Henry II as a young man.
  • Straight Gay: Richard, arguably.
  • Stepford Snarker: Eleanor is manipulative and sarcastic as they come, and talks about her imprisonment very casually, but a couple scenes show that she is desperately unhappy being trapped in her castle for ten years and counting, and deep down misses her husband and family very much.
  • 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. Even worse, Aquitaine has different rules than England. The muddled mess will result in the Hundred Years War, the War of the Baron, and ultimately the Magna Carta when John remains in charge.
  • Sword over Head: Henry, having passed judgment on his three sons for treason, raises his sword to strike Richard down...
  • Troll: Henry, Eleanor, Geoffrey, and Philip.
  • Tsundere: Eleanor is a mixture of Harsh and Sweet. She seems to have been mostly the Sweet type in her younger days, but has moved more toward the Harsh type in her later years.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Princes John (for Geoffrey) and Richard (for Philip).
  • Warrior Prince: Richard. He's first seen victorious in a tournament, prepared to strike his opponent dead.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: All of Henry's sons secretly want his approval.
  • 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.
  • Wife Husbandry: Not only is Alais young enough to be Henry's daughter, she's been betrothed to his son since childhood... and thus grew up in England, as it was custom for betrothed princesses to live where they'd one day be married. Since her mother died when she was young, Eleanor basically raised her, meaning Henry's carrying on with his wife's adopted daughter and their intended daughter-in-law. Ew.
  • 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."
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Eleanor shows signs of it, though she's reluctant to admit it.
  • 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.
  • Younger Than They Look: Philip. It's even lampshaded by Eleanor.
    Eleanor: I was told you were impressive for a boy of seventeen.

Alternative Title(s): The Lion In Winter


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