×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Lion in Winter

James Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay has lost little of its luster 36 years later, in an impressive remake that provides delectably meaty roles for Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. Beautifully shot but carrying an extra 20 minutes or so of screen time from its prior incarnation, "The Lion in Winter" is a long sit but nevertheless a rewarding one.

With:
Eleanor - Glenn Close Henry - Patrick Stewart Phillip - Jonathan Rhys-Meyers Richard - Andrew Howard Geoffrey - John Light John - Rafe Spall William Marshall - Clive Wood Alais - Julia Vysotsky

The late James Goldman’s Oscar-winning screenplay has lost little of its luster 36 years later, in an impressive remake that provides delectably meaty roles for Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. Inasmuch as Goldman (who died in 1998) adapted the film from his stage play, the close-in material lends itself well to television, what with its lacerating verbal confrontations, court intrigue and “Masterpiece Theatre”-like trappings. Beautifully shot but carrying an extra 20 minutes or so of screen time from its prior incarnation, “The Lion in Winter” is a long sit but nevertheless a rewarding one.

Both Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn garnered Oscar nominations (with the latter winning) for the original, which might explain why the principals couldn’t resist a trip to Hungary and Slovakia to re-shoot Goldman’s script under director Andrei Konchalovsky.

Anyone whose familiarity with the period is derived from the Robin Hood tales will be in for a rude awakening upon absorbing this zesty look at King Henry II (Stewart); his jailed queen, Eleanor of Aquitane (Close); and their three despicable sons, including the crusading Richard the Lionheart and the dolt who would in future years usurp his throne, John.

Aging but “still a marvel of a man,” as Eleanor calls him, Henry has survived many attempts to dethrone him — among them a civil war led by his wife and two elder sons a decade earlier, chronicled in a previously unseen prologue.

Reluctantly facing his own mortality, the king must now grapple with the matter of succession. What to do, though, when all three of Henry’s boys — the brutal Richard (Andrew Howard), scheming Geoffrey (John Light) and bumbling John (Rafe Spall) — covet his crown, though Henry inexplicably favors the last of them, while Eleanor dotes on Richard.

Still drawn to each other and loaded with venom, the two aging monarchs essentially play a high-stakes game of chess with real pawns, or Monopoly with real provinces and countries, take your pick. Henry, for example, has a comely mistress (Julia Vysotsky) and he’s willing to marry her off to secure what he wants, even though her brother happens to be France’s 19-year-old king, Phillip (the stellar Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who proves a cagier adversary than Henry could have imagined.

For you Gen-Xers, try thinking of it as a 12th century version of “The OC,” with more flamboyant costumes.

Peppered with brilliant dialogue — “My, what a greedy little trinity you are,” Eleanor hisses to her sons — this new “Lion” showcases a first-rate pride, beginning with Close. To the actress’s credit, her Eleanor manages to stand apart from Hepburn’s — seemingly drawing equally from Close’s earlier roles in “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Reversal of Fortune.”

Stewart also cuts a fine figure as the bellowing Henry, in a more age-appropriate bit of casting than O’Toole, who was in his mid-30s (and a shocking quarter-century Hepburn’s junior) when he donned the cloak.

Producer Robert Halmi Sr. has long been fascinated with reviving such prestigious material, and it’s noteworthy that this latest endeavor wound up on pay TV, which is perhaps where it most belongs. For despite meticulous production values and solid performances throughout, it’s hard to envision much of a mainstream audience for such a cerebral exercise today, especially with ads for Dentu-Grip interrupting the oratory.

In that respect, it’s nice that Showtime is around to provide sanctuary for productions about an aging leader with screwed-up children — whether it’s this, or “The Reagans.”

The Lion in Winter

Showtime, Sun. May 23, 7:30 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in Hungary and Slovakia by Hallmark Entertainment in association with MAT IV. Executive producers, Robert Halmi Sr., Robert Halmi Jr., Martin Poll, Patrick Stewart, Wendy Neuss-Stewart; producer, Dyson Lovell; co-producer, Paul Lowin; director, Andrei Konchalovsky; writer, James Goldman, based on his play;

Crew: camera, Sergei Kozlov; editor, Henry Richardson; music, Richard Hartley; production designer, Roger Hall; casting, Joyce Gallie, Sally Osoba. 156 MIN.

Cast: Eleanor - Glenn Close Henry - Patrick Stewart Phillip - Jonathan Rhys-Meyers Richard - Andrew Howard Geoffrey - John Light John - Rafe Spall William Marshall - Clive Wood Alais - Julia Vysotsky

More TV

  • jesse-tyler-ferguson

    Jesse Tyler Ferguson Will Host HGTV's 'Extreme Makeover' Revival (EXCLUSIVE)

    You don’t need a home-improvement expert to restart “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the actor best known for his turn as Mitchell Pritchett in the popular sitcom “Modern Family,’ will host HGTV’s ten-episode remodel of the popular home-improvement series, in which families and communities in need of help are given a massive reworking [...]

  • Prince Albert II of Monaco and

    Patricia Arquette's 'Escape at Dannemora' Wins at Monte Carlo TV Festival

    Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora” won the Crystal Nymph in the limited series and TV movie section of the 59th edition of the Monte Carlo Television Festival on Tuesday. The ceremony was attended by Michael Douglas, who received a lifetime achievement award from Prince Albert of Monaco. “Escape at Dannemora’s” Patricia Arquette, playing a female prison [...]

  • Don Lemon Power of Pride

    Don Lemon, CNN’s ‘Unicorn,’ on Facing Racism and Homophobia

    “Am I tired?” Don Lemon asks himself. “Sometimes, but it’s a day to day thing. Am I weary? Yes. I am. I have to be honest with you. It’s a lot.” Lemon, a CNN anchor on the air nightly at ten, would seem from some angles like someone who should be celebrating. For one thing, [...]

  • Asia Kate Dillon

    From 'Billions' to 'John Wick 3,' Asia Kate Dillon Makes Hollywood Theirs

    Who would have guessed that “Billions,” a cutthroat and hedonistic look at Wall Street hedge fund magnates and the politicians gunning for them, would deliver a groundbreaking representation of gender non-binary identities? Certainly not Asia Kate Dillon, who portrays non-binary investment wunderkind Taylor Mason on the Showtime series and also identifies as non-binary off-screen. The [...]

  • Janet Mock photographed for Variety on

    Janet Mock Signs Landmark Overall Netflix Deal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Janet Mock is making history. The “Pose” director, producer and writer has signed a sweeping deal at Netflix, making her the first out transgender woman empowered to call the creative shots at a major content company. The three-year multimillion-dollar pact gives the streaming giant exclusive rights to her TV series and a first-look option on [...]

  • Jim Parsons Variety Power of Pride

    Jim Parsons on Coming Out and Life After 'The Big Bang Theory'

    Jim Parsons just stepped away from a 12-year commitment — and is preparing to step into a new yet familiar role. After four Emmys and untold numbers of physics-inflected jokes on “The Big Bang Theory,” Parsons is reprising a part he played on Broadway in 2018. A Netflix adaptation of the drama “The Boys in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content