(director: Anthony Harvey; screenwriter: James Goldman/based on his play; cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe; editor: John Bloom; music: John Barry; cast: Peter O’Toole (Henry II), Katharine Hepburn (Eleanor of Aquitaine), Jane Merrow (Princess Alais), John Castle (Prince Geoffrey), Timothy Dalton (King Philip), Anthony Hopkins (Prince Richard the Lion-hearted), Nigel Terry (Prince John), Nigel Stock (William Marshall); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Martin Poll; Avco Embassy Pictures; 1968-UK)

“Intelligently produced historical drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film came about because producer Martin Poll’s projected “Ski Bum” had a lame script and the production was delayed, so the producer got its star Peter O’Toole to film instead a stage play. Anthony Harvey (“Dutchman”/”Eagle’s Wing”/”Grace Quigley”)directs this intelligently produced historical drama based on the 1966 flop Broadway play by James Goldman, that later on was revived to moderate success after the film received fairly good reviews. Though more an interpretation of events than an historical document, even if the historical facts check out as mostly correct, it nevertheless amounts to an entertaining spectacle due to the use of contemporary dialogue and that the principle leads of Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn are so good together. O’Toole once again plays the decrepit aging Henry II, the same part he played in Becket (1964). Hepburn that year shared the Best Actress Oscar with Funny Girl’s Barbara Streisand. Goldman won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, while John Barry’s musical score won the film’s third Oscar.

In 1183, King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) has called a Christmas Court at Chinon Castle to choose which of his three surviving sons –the oldest queer monstrous brutish warrior son Richard (Anthony Hopkins), the neglected clever conniving cold-hearted middle-son Geoffrey (John Castle), or the feckless spastic sniveling youngest son John (Nigel Terry)will be named successor to the crown. Their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) has been for the last ten years imprisoned in Salisbury Tower, due to her part of plotting against hubby in the civil wars, and comes to hubby full of love and hate for him–supporting a hateful Richard to the throne as opposed to Henry’s support of the incompetent John.

When all the principles, including Henry’s mistress Princess Alais of France (Jane Merrow) and her cunning 18-year-old brother King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton), meet at Chinon, they all squabble over the future appointment of a king,maneuver for power, and treachery is afoot at every moment as they also must decide who will marry the king’s mistress and what will become of the provinces of Vexin and Aquitaine. All three sons would do anything to be king and are sorry excuses for human beings, who are held to be contemptible by both mom and dad.Everyone becomes a pawn in the power play between Eleanor and Henry, as each royal schemes to have their way and every character gets to insult all the other characters with nasty retorts and to frighten each other with physical threats.It’s not much of a jolly Christmas pic or much of a family value pic.

The film’s best line is said by Hepburn and directed at O’Toole:I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice!