“It’s 1183 and we’re all barbarians…” And barbaric it is!
THE LION WINTER follows an aging King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) who has summoned his exiled queen, Eleanor of Acquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), to court to spend the Christmas holiday together and select Henry’s successor. Verbal and physical sparring ensue as each of the three sons declares his desire for the throne while Eleanor and Henry remain on opposing sides of the argument.
A flop during its brief run on Broadway in 1964, James Goldman’s witty Oscar-winning script makes for clever verbal jousting and a chance to watch two superb actors, O’Toole (who should have won the Oscar) and Hepburn (who did, tying with Barbra Streisand for FUNNY GIRL), argue tooth and nail at their regal, histrionic best. John Barry’s Oscar-winning score combines orchestral and choral forces to represents the mood and setting of the story rather than commenting on the action onscreen.
The main titles announce the dark cloud hanging over the proceedings with a modernistic, rhythmically driven beat and a theme for trumpets and strings harking back to the modalities of medieval chant, while the chorus barks out an ominous Latin text.
“The church’s influence was a dominant factor at the time of the drama, and the music said that subliminally,” stated Barry. “The Gregorian chants, Latin text, and church music are all things Henry had to deal with. Using them then was a very simple thought but it proved very powerful, because it permeated just about everything in the film.”
“I think [the score] won the Oscar,” said Barry, “because it was so out of the way, so different. When THE LION IN WINTER came along after the James Bond films, everyone thought that it really was a strange departure for me. Actually, the Bond movies were a departure for me… But writing that score was a real labor of love.”