Lion in Winter (1968): Oscar Winning Historical Epic Starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole

James Goldman’s stage play, The Lion in Winter, was transferred to the screen by British director Anthony Harvey without its original players, Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris.  Instead he opted fpr two major stars, Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn.
Set in 1183, the saga begins with the powerful Henry II (Peter O’Toole) summoning his politically ambitious family to reunion that includes his wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), whom he has kept isolated in a remote castle, to prevent her from interfering with his ruling.

Their three sons, Prince Geoffrey (John Castle), Prince Richard the Lion-Hearted (Anthony Hopkins in his film debut), and Prince John (Nigel Terry) are all lusting for his crown.

The reunion gets considerably more colorful and nastier, with private and public squabbling and back stabbing, due to the presence of Henry’s mistress, Princess Alais (Jane Merrow) and his brother, King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton, who would become James Bond). A gossipy, modern version of the court intrigues of King Henry II, the movie is marked by such anachronistic dialogue as the Queen saying, “Hush, dear, mother’s fighting,” or better, “Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”

As a marital drama, it recalls Lillian Hellman’s play The Little Foxes and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf Both made into popular movies in 1941 and 1966, respectively.

Douglas Slocombe’s skillful cinematography of on-location shoots in Ireland, Wales, and France, and the two lead actor-stars, Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, made the film quite enjoyableand commercial too. Hepburn, older in age than O’Toole (whose character is 50 but was in his 30s), shines as the shrewd and scheming queen, and the fact that she held the then alcoholic O’Toole in contempt, must have added spice to her performance; reportedly, at the end of the shoot, she spitted on his face.


Peter O’Toole as King Henry II of England

Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine

Anthony Hopkins as Richard the Lionheart

John Castle as Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany and Third Earl of Richmond

Nigel Terry as John

Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France

Jane Merrow as Alais, Countess of the Vexin

Nigel Stock as Captain William Marshall (First Earl of Pembroke)

Kenneth Ives as Queen Eleanor’s guard


Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Martin Poll

Director: Anthony Harvey

Screenplay (Adapted): James Goldman

Actor: Peter O’Toole

Actress: Katharine Hepburn

Score (Original): John Barry

Costume Design: Margaret Furse

Oscar Awards: 3



Score (Original)

Oscar Context

In 1968, “Oliver!” was not the only musical vying for the Best Picture Oscar. The other nominee was William Wyler’s screen adaptation of the Broadway hit, “Funny Girl.” These musicals competed with two historical dramas, “The Lion in Winter” and Zeffirelli’s rendition of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The fifth nominee featured Paul Newman directorial debut in the intimate drama, “Rachel, Rachel, starring his wife-actress Joanne Woodward.

In an unprecedented move, that happened only once in the Academy’s history, a tie was declared in the Best Actress category between Streisand and Katharine Hepburn, who won her third Oscar for “The Lion in Winter.”

There has been only one tie in the Best Actor category, in 1931-32, when Wallace Beery (“The Champ”) and Frederic March (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) both won the Best Actor Oscar.

Peter O’Toole, who portrays Henry II as a middle-aged man, had played the same king as a young man in Becket, four years earlier, for which he was also nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.


Avco Embassy (Haworth Productions)