The Lion in Winter
James Goldman adapted his play about England’s King Henry II meeting with his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitane, their sons Richard, John, and Geoffrey, and King Philip II of France during Christmas time in 1183.
England’s King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and his son John (Nigel Terry) practice sword fighting against each other. Henry wins but says his son is gaining on him. He tells John to go practice. Henry tells Alais (Jane Merrow) that he will be a good king. She asks if he will look down from heaven to see how his son is ruling. He wants to have his kingdom last, and John comes after him. Alais asks if she is going to lose Henry, and he says he never loved anyone but her. She asks about Rosamund and Eleanor. He says Rosamund is dead, and he assumes Eleanor is decaying. He has kept her in prison for ten years. William Marshall (Nigel Stock) arrives on a horse, and Henry tells him that he is holding Christmas court at Chinon with the King of France. He is to tell his boys Richard and Geoffrey, and he wants him to bring Eleanor from Salisbury tower.
On a horse in armor Richard (Anthony Hopkins) jousts and unhorses his opponent and is about to kill him when Marshall calls his name.
Soldiers march on a beach, and Geoffrey (John Castle) watches them from a hill. He signals cavalry below, and they charge against the infantry. Then he signals a second group of cavalry to charge also. He watches the cavalry win, and Marshall tells him that this father wants to see him.
Marshall finds Eleanor of Aquitane (Katharine Hepburn) in the tower painting, and she asks where the Christmas court is to be.
At Chinon palace Henry washes his face while Alais talks to him wrapped in a sheet. She implies she could be one of his enemies and asks how much trouble she could be; but he says not much. Eleanor knows that young Henry died during the summer. He wants John on the throne, and she wants Richard. Alais says she cannot be his mistress if she is married to his son. As they eat, he says John would not mind; but she says she does not like him. She does not want to lose Henry, and he says Philip of France will want her dowry back. John comes running in and then goes outside.
John runs to welcome Geoffrey and is glad to get a gift.
Alais asks what difference her dowry makes. Henry says he was lucky in marrying landed women. Eleanor owned Aquitane, the greatest province in Europe. Alais says he adored her, and he admits he did in the past. Henry tells Alais that she must obey him so that he can use her as he likes.
Richard arrives and tells Geoffrey and John that Eleanor does not like him as much as before. Richard tells John that he will be king.
Alais tells Henry that his three sons do not like him, but he wants them to fight for the crown. Alais says she will fight for him.
On a boat Eleanor sits on a throne as men row. Henry and Alais leave the castle and go to the shore to welcome her. He asks Eleanor if the channel parted for her. Eleanor says it went flat for her. She thanks him for letting her out of jail, and he lifts her out of the boat. She hugs Alais.
Inside Eleanor speaks to John, Richard, and Geoffrey. She hopes Philip is grown up. She did not produce sons for Louis and so is no longer queen of France. Richard tells her that Henry still wants John to be king. Henry comes in and says he will negotiate with Philip until he wins. He orders them to give him their support.
Henry leads Eleanor and the others outside where some people gather. Philip II (Timothy Dalton) arrives and embraces Henry who welcomes him to Chinon.
Inside Henry stands by the fire, and Eleanor introduces herself to Philip who tells Henry that his sister Alais must marry Richard, or they will get the county back. Henry explains his position is complicated. He says Richard is powerful, and Alais will make her husband an ally of Philip. Henry says the Vexin is his because his troops are there. Henry calls Philip boy, and he is offended and starts to leave. Henry tells him to bellow back. Henry says they can be civilized and make peace. Philip asks if he has an offer, and Henry says he will think of one. Henry tells him he is better at diplomacy than he thought. Philip goes out, and Richard tells Henry that he wants Alais and the Aquitane and will not trade them for the sake of John who complains. Henry tells John to stand up, and John runs out. Geoffrey says he will advise John and rule the country for him. Geoffrey complains that no one considers him for the crown, and he goes out. Eleanor says she does not like their sons. Eleanor says she cares for Alais, but she never liked Rosamund. She tells Alais how he loved Rosamund, but he took her for her land. Alais is sure that Eleanor could hurt her, and she goes out. Eleanor admits to Henry that Alais is lovely. Eleanor brags that she bore six girls and five boys. She says John will get the crown, but he will miss Alais. He asks how she likes living in her castle. He will never let her be free because of the civil wars she caused him. She asks him to go to dinner, and they go hand in hand.
As they walk, Henry tells Eleanor that he has blundered into peace. He has not had to fight France, and he likes making laws and collecting taxes. He says Philip is big enough now, and he is sick of war. Henry says his troops are only twenty miles from Paris. She says that if Richard does not marry Alais, she will make him lose the Vexin. He says she can try. He offers her his arm and says they should look loving for the barons.
Henry and Eleanor enter a large room crowded with cheering people. She offers him eternal peace. He warns her not to oppose him. A bonfire burns in the center, and they sit on thrones at the head table with the sons and Alais. Eleanor asks Henry if he ever loved her, and he says no. She says that will make this easier.
Richard comes to see Eleanor and asks what she wanted. She wants to talk and says he looks fit. She follows his slaughters from a distance. He asks what this is, and she says he looks too stern. She admits she plots, and she implies she loves him. Richard does not like her. He says she will never give him up as long as he holds Aquitane. She suggests he go if she is so devious. He says it would be a joy to leave her. John comes in, followed by Geoffrey.
Eleanor and the three sons find Henry outside. Henry tells Richard that he wants him to succeed him. John complains, and Henry asks him if he can beat Richard in the field. John says he will do something terrible. Henry tells Eleanor that power is the only fact. Richard knows that Henry would never give him anything. Henry says Richard will keep the kingdom together, and he wants that. Alais says she has nothing to lose, and that makes her dangerous. John is weak and feels sorry for himself; but she says he has not lost yet and runs off. Geoffrey offers himself to Eleanor as a chancellor. She says Henry is not finished with John, and she doubts Richard’s wedding will ever come. Geoffrey says they know all this. He asks her if Richard will take him as his chancellor. Geoffrey offers to give them John. He wants to see Eleanor and Henry eating each other. She says Geoffrey still loves her. She tells him to be Richard’s chancellor, and he goes off. She tells Richard that they have him if they want him. She asks Richard what is wrong, and he says nothing. She says she is simpler now. She only wants to see him king. He says he only cares that Henry loses, but he won’t let her use him to get back at Henry. She met Henry when he was eighteen, and she was queen of France. She annulled Louis and married Henry. Within three years she became queen of England. Then she gave birth to Henry and him. She wishes she had been sterile. She says she loved him more than Henry, and it cost her. He asks what she wants, and she wants Aquitane. Richard says he will not give it up. She says she loves him, but he does not believe her and calls her dead and deadly. He says she was lovely once. She cuts her arm to show her will, and seeing the blood Richard cries. She embraces him and recalls past happiness with him.
Henry is drinking and tells William to set up a meeting with Philip in a half hour.
Philip is told and is playing chess with Geoffrey who asks what will happen if he were king. Philip tells him to play his game.
Geoffrey goes to John who says he is not a fool because he knows three languages. Geoffrey says that they and Philip could destroy Richard in a war. John asks if they will kill mother too, and Geoffrey says yes.
Philip asks John if he wants a war, and Geoffrey urges him to accept. Philip and John shake hands, and Geoffrey adds his.
Alais tells Henry that he promised her to Richard. He feels Eleanor is torturing him with Aquitane. Eleanor comes in with presents. He tells Alais not to go so that he can nettle Eleanor. Alais says he does not need her, and she goes out. Henry asks Eleanor if she broke Richard’s heart. She asks if he should give her the Aquitane, and Henry says why not because he is giving him the throne. She refuses to give the Aquitane to John. Henry says he must give him something. She says he is her son, and she remembers it was the time when he found Rosamund. He had countless women, and she mentions Thomas Becket. He wants the Aquitane and says he will have it. She says he cannot get around her. He offers her freedom if she gives the Aquitane to John. She could visit Richard where he was killing people. She likes travel and says she made Louis take her on a crusade. She says she is against the wall and does not know how she survived the last ten years. Now he offers her the only thing she wants if she gives up the only thing she treasures. They agree, and she signs but says the wedding must be held now. He says he can live without Alais. She asks if he wondered if she slept with his father. She says it is a lie. Henry gets angry and says he will show her. He goes out and orders Marshall to bring a bishop, and he calls for his sons. They come running.
The sons, Philip, and Alais join Henry and Eleanor. Henry makes Alais go to the chapel while she tries to resist. Richard holds her other hand. She asks Henry what he will gain, and he says the Aquitaine. He says Eleanor gets her freedom. Richard says there will be no wedding. Henry says he promised Philip. Richard defies Henry who turns to Philip who says he never meant to have the wedding. Philip says Henry is playing a game, and Henry gets angry. They quarrel, and Philip goes out. Richard tells Henry that he is getting old. Richard says he is next in line and will have the crown. Henry argues with him and says John comes next. Richard goes out, and John is happy and speaks to Geoffrey who says he is happy for both of them. They go out, and Henry says he fooled Eleanor. Alais is still there, and Eleanor asks what happens now. He asks Eleanor if she was scared, and she says no. Alais says she was scared. He says he could not lose her. Eleanor says she is delighted because she is locked up with her sons. She asks to see Henry kiss Alais. Henry tells Alais to ignore the dragon and asks her to believe in the love he feels for her. He says he is old and kisses her while Eleanor watches and cries.
Outside small groups huddle around campfires.
In her room Eleanor talks to herself and says she lost again. She hopes to win next time. She looks at her crown and says she is locked in for another year. She puts it on and sees Geoffrey in her mirror. He approaches and wishes her merry Christmas. He remembers his third birthday, but he always found her and his father indifferent to him. She says they loved none of their children. She says she is tired, and she is sick of them. John comes in to gloat but says it is no fun. Richard comes in and says they are his prisoners. He thought she wanted him to be king. She says they lost it this time. Richard says he will be king, but she says not this year. John says he wins, and Richard threatens he could die. Eleanor says they are the origins of war. She says they breed wars, and she asks if they can love one another a little. She says they have much to love each other for. Geoffrey asks what Philip would do. John is worried his father will find out about their war and runs out. Eleanor tells Geoffrey to keep John from Philip, and he goes out. She tells Richard to promise things to Philip. Richard tells her to see Philip, but she says he is his friend, and she is not. Richard goes out. Alone Eleanor talks about knives and looks in a mirror.
Geoffrey knocks, and Philip lets him in. Geoffrey says he can be king if Philip will support him, and Philip agrees. John comes out from behind a curtain and tries to attack Geoffrey but falls on the floor. Geoffrey explains that Richard would have betrayed him too. They hear a knock, and Geoffrey and John hide. Philip lets Richard in. Philip pours brandy wine for Richard who drinks. Philip says he studied to be a king and says he is no longer a boy. Richard asks if he will help him. Philip tells him to sit down. He asks Richard why he should make him king of England. Richard says he is still a boy. Richard promises him the Vexin and Brittany. Philip says that is Geoffrey’s, and Richard asks if that matters. Philip asks Richard what he wants, and he asks for military support. He says Philip got married. Philip says he was in hell for two years, and Richard admits he was too. Philip extends his hand, and Richard shakes. Richard says Philip did not say he loves him. They get up and hear knocking. Richard hides behind another curtain, and Philip lets in Henry. Philip gives him brandy wine. Henry asks if Richard or Eleanor have been there. Henry says he wants to find a settlement. He offers peace, and Philip rejects it. Henry says his father would have wept. Henry says in a fight Philip will lose, but Philip says he has time. Henry says he could hurry it. Philip says he will surrender, but Henry won’t keep things for long. Philip says he has title courage. Henry pours himself more brandy wine. Henry says Philip will say yes to Richard, but he will withdraw it before the battle begins. Philip asks why not. Henry says good night, and Philip says they did not settle anything. Henry says he just won, but Philip disagrees. Henry says he found out how his mind works, but he told him nothing. Philip says Henry was always better than his father. Henry says his father was a loving man, and Philip has learned nothing. Philip asks his view on sodomy. Philip tells how Richard touched him and asked if he loved him. Philip says he told him yes so that he could tell Henry about it later. Richard bursts out and says it was not like that. He says Philip loved him, but Philip says never. Richard tells Henry to get out. Henry says he will tell his mother. Richard says she knows and sent him. Richard asks his father why he never loved him. He cries and says he would have done anything. Henry says it is not his fault. Richard says he wanted him, but Henry says he wants his kingdom. Geoffrey comes out and complains that his father does not think of him either. He says John is pathetic, and he has betrayed him too. Geoffrey opens the curtain revealing John. Henry is disappointed and asks John to speak. John says it is not what he thinks. John asks if he can go, and Henry grabs him and says he loved him and wanted to give him his kingdom. John says his father never loved anything. Geoffrey says he is all that is left. Henry says no and says his life will appear better when it is written. He has been a great king with a great queen, but she bore him no sons. He says he disowned his sons. He says he leaves them nothing and stalks out.
In the hall he says he lost his boys. He shouts, “God damn you!” He walks into the empty banquet room and goes to his room where Alais gets up and goes to him. He leaves the room and goes up stairs. He walks on the castle wall at night and sees the boat that brought Eleanor. He sits down, leans on the wall, and looks up.
Alais is cooking and singing a Christmas song. Eleanor comes in and says that when she was young, Christmas was confusing to her. Alais asks what happened, and Eleanor says many things were said. She sees spiced wine and says Henry likes it. Alais asks if she ever loved Henry. Alais says Rosamund was prettier than her, and Eleanor agrees. She hated her because she replaced her. Alais says she poisoned her, but Eleanor denies it. Alais says she has a hard time feeling pity for her. She says Eleanor loves Henry but his kingdom more. Alais wants only Henry and asks for him. Eleanor says she is finished and will give him anything he asks for. Alais says she would like to see Eleanor suffer. Eleanor says for her, and they hug each other. Henry comes in and says the sky is filled with stars. Alais hands him more wine, and he tells her to go to her room. She goes out, and he sits down. Eleanor says she thinks the need for love never stops. Henry marvels at Eleanor who is like a drawbridge going down for everyone. Eleanor says she saw Richard who said they fought. He thinks he will disinherit them. Henry says he will relent. He says he could listen to her lies for hours. She says she is tired, and he tells her to sleep. She says she will give him whatever he wants. He asks in exchange for what, and she asks to be alone. She gives his word, and he claps his hands but says her oaths are profane. She asks how they ever got to this Christmas, and he says step by step. She asks what happens to her now. He will tell her his plans if she asks. She says she will sign and go to bed. He does not want her signature on anything. He still likes goading her. She says he does not want Richard or John. She asks what he does want, and he says he wants a new wife. She is moved and asks if the Pope will annul her. She asks why, and he says a new wife will bear him sons. She thinks he has enough sons. She asks him to help her count the bastards. She asks if he will really do it. She says her sons are part of him. They made them. Henry says Geoffrey is a device. He asks if John’s latest treason was her idea. He has seen John lie, cheat, steal, whore, and whip his servants. He says he is the man he made. She says John is his accomplishment. He says Richard is hers, and he asks how she could send him off to Philip. Henry says he was the best. She says he made her do it. She says he overthrew her for Rosamund. She says she adored him. He says that is the most terrible thing. He hugs her, and she says they mangled everything. He agrees and asks her to remember when they met. They sit together on a rug. He says he never saw such beauty and touched it. He admits he loved her and kisses her. She is crying and says there will be no annulment. He says this was just a whim. She is relieved because she did not want to lose him. He asks how she could possibly ever lose him when they are rarely together. She asks if he can feel the chains. She says his enemies have friends in Rome who will cost him time. She says she can hold him back for one year. How many years will it be before he gives birth to another son? When he dies, what will happen to Alais and Richard. She implies she will encourage him to kill his little sons. She says she has only one son, and she says he is cruel to her. Henry admits he will die and says he has no sons. She says he has too many sons. He says he is off to Rome and shouts as he walks out. She says he has given his sons common cause with Philip too. She says she has him now. He asks if he should take a thousand soldiers. He says she should have lied. If she had promised to be good while he was gone, he would have let his sons loose. She says he would not dare lock up his sons. She will do anything to keep him. She says he is afraid of dying. She goads him about his father and says she loved him. She describes his body and says she feels his arms. Henry gets sick and staggers out of the room. She falls on the floor and asks what family does not have ups and downs. She feels cold and cannot feel anything.
Henry wakes up Marshall. They carry torches and wake people up. Soldiers come upstairs and guard the doors. They grab John who is in bed with a young woman.
Marshall enters a room, and Richard is captured by soldiers. John, Geoffrey, and Richard are taken to a dungeon.
Henry with a torch wakes up more people. He orders Marshall to tell Eleanor to pack so that she can leave when it is light.
Henry goes outside and rouses people.
Eleanor has two maids packing. A soldier comes in and stands over her as she sits at a table by her jewelry box.
Henry tells Alais that they are moving out. She asks what he is doing, and he says they are going to Rome to get his marriage annulled. He tells her that they are getting married by the Pope himself. She asks if he means it. He says the bridal party is preparing to leave. She goes and looks out the window. She says Eleanor will try to stop them. He says she will not, and his sons have been arrested. He asks her to marry him, be his queen, and give him sons. She says he can never let his sons out of the dungeon. If he does, it is a nunnery or a dungeon for her, or they will kill her and their children. She says she will not live to see their children murdered. He starts to go out, and she asks if he is going to let them out or keep them in. He asks if she could tell her sons they have seen the sun for the last time.
Henry goes outside followed by Alais. The soldier with the jewelry box follows Eleanor who lights a torch and goes down the stairs. They stop, and she takes the box. The soldier fights the guard and kills him. He takes the key and opens the dungeon. Eleanor goes in with the torch, and the three sons stand up. Richard says he is there and says he will not beg. They walk forward and see Eleanor. She says she came to say goodbye. She opens the box revealing three daggers. Geoffrey says they should wait until Henry comes in alone. She says she will warn him, but Geoffrey tells her it will lead to their executions. Richard agrees with Geoffrey and tells Eleanor that she should kill him if she wants him dead. She calls Richard unnatural and says he is not hers. He asks where he learned these things; she is unnatural too. He asks what she wanted, and she says she wanted Henry back. Geoffrey warns them not to trust her because she will warn him. They hear the door, and Henry comes in followed by Alais. He has four large candles he stole from the chapel to provide light. He says they can all rest in a little while. They are lit, and he says that is better. Richard asks what he wants. Henry says he was the best, but he loved John. Richard says he never stops, and so he will not be able to rest. Richard takes a dagger from the chest. Henry sees the other two and picks them up. He calls them brave boys and tosses them to the other two sons. He pulls his dagger and fights with Richard and the others. John asks him to take him back. John lunges at Henry, who puts him down and holds his dagger to his neck. Eleanor tells him to execute him for this treason. Henry says he is the king, and it is just. He holds up a sword and states his authority as he sentences them to death. He raises his sword and brings it down on Richard’s shoulder without hurting him. Then he falls on the floor and says that is not what he intended. He calls them children and says they are all we have. He says he is done and finished with them. Geoffrey runs out, followed by John. Then Richard walks out. Eleanor says he will spoil them if he spares the rod. He says he could not do it, and she says nobody thought he could. Alais tries to comfort him, and Henry says he wants no women in his life. He says he could have conquered Europe but for the women in his life. He tells her to get out, and Alais leaves. Henry tells Eleanor he should have killed her years ago because she made him do mad things. She tells him to accept responsibility and asks if he has lost his life’s work. She says she could take defeats like his and has done so. She says she lost him and can never have him back. She says he is all that she ever loved. She says he does not know what nothing is. She repeats that she wants to die, and he holds her. He says it will happen some day, and she laughs. He says she is going back to prison, and they have lost each other; but she is smiling. She says that is how she registers despair. He says they both are alive, and that is hope. She says they are jungle creatures with dark all around them. She asks him to see the eyes in the corners. He stands up and says he is a match for anything but her. She says she would have been a fool not to love him. He offers his hand, and she stands up.
Outside in the morning Eleanor asks Henry if he will let her out for Easter. She gets on the boat, and he shouts that he hopes they will never die. He asks if there is any chance, and they both laugh and wave at each other.
This drama of a powerful medieval family is based on the historical personages while playing out various possibilities that never actually happen, yet showing the kinds of intrigues such people could do in their struggles for power.