The Lion in Winter
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnthony Harvey
Screenplay byJames Goldman
Based onThe Lion in Winter
1966 play
by James Goldman
Produced byMartin Poll
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byJohn Bloom
Music byJohn Barry
Color processColor
Haworth Productions
Distributed byAVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • October 30, 1968 (1968-10-30)
Running time
134 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Budget$4 million[1]
Box office$22.3 million[2]

The Lion in Winter is a 1968 historical drama film set at Christmas 1183; it centres on political and personal turmoil among the royal family of Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their three surviving sons, and the French king. The film was directed by Anthony Harvey; written by James Goldman (based on his own play of the same name); produced by Joseph E. Levine, Jane C. Nusbaum, and Martin Poll; and starred Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, John Castle, Anthony Hopkins (in his first major film role), Jane Merrow, Timothy Dalton (in his film debut) and Nigel Terry.

The film was a commercial success and won three Academy Awards, including Hepburn's historic tie with Barbra Streisand for Best Actress, making Hepburn the first three-time winner in the category. A television remake of the film was released in 2003.


The Lion in Winter is set during Christmas season 1183, at King Henry II's château and primary residence in Chinon, Touraine, in the medieval Angevin Empire. Henry wants his youngest son, the future King John, to inherit his throne, while his estranged and imprisoned wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, temporarily released from prison in England for the holidays, favours their eldest surviving son, the future King Richard I.

King Philip II of France, the son and successor of Louis VII of France, Eleanor's ex-husband, is a guest. His father had made a treaty with King Henry giving Philip's half-sister Alais, who is currently Henry's mistress, to be married to Henry's future heir, and demands either a wedding or the return of her dowry, which is a strategically important area of land, the Vexin.

Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, a role for which she won an Oscar

As a ruse, Henry agrees to give Alais to Richard and make him heir-apparent. He makes a deal with Eleanor for her freedom in return for Aquitaine, to be given to John, with Richard marrying Alais. When the deal is revealed at the wedding, Richard, who wanted the Aquitaine for himself, refuses to go through with the ceremony.

After Richard leaves, Eleanor masochistically asks Henry to kiss Alais in front of her, and then looks on in horror as they perform a mock marriage ceremony. Having believed Henry's intentions, John, at the direction of middle brother, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, plots with Philip to make war on Henry. Henry and Philip meet to discuss terms, but Henry soon learns that Philip has been plotting with John and Geoffrey, and that he and Richard may once have been lovers, though Philip presents this as an act of manipulation he performed.

Henry dismisses all three sons as unsuitable and locks them in a wine cellar, telling Alais, "the royal boys are aging with the royal port." He makes plans to travel to Rome for an annulment of his marriage to Eleanor, so that he can have legitimate new sons with Alais, but she says he will never be able to release his sons from prison because they will be a threat to her future children after he is dead.

Henry sees that she is right and, following a knife-fight with his sons in the prison, condemns them to death, but cannot bring himself to kill them, instead letting them escape. He and Eleanor go back to hoping for the future, with Eleanor returning on the barge to prison, laughing it off with Henry before she leaves.




The original stage production had not been a success, getting a bad review in The New York Times and losing $150,000. Producer Martin Poll optioned Goldman's novel Waldorf for the movies. They discussed Lion in Winter, which Poll had read and loved. He hired Goldman to write a screenplay.


Poll was meant to make a film with Joseph Levine and Peter O'Toole, The Ski Bum (which would be written by James Goldman's brother William). That project fell through and Poll suggested they do Lion in Winter instead.[3] O'Toole, who was 36, portrays Henry II at age 50.

In October 1967, the actors rehearsed at Haymarket Theatre in London.[4] Production started in November 1967[5] and continued until May 1968.[6]


The film was shot at Ardmore Studios in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, and on location in Ireland, Wales (Marloes Sands),[7] and in France at Abbaye de Montmajour, Arles; Château de Tarascon, Carcassonne; and Saône-et-Loire.

The sculpted stone figures appearing during the main title music were an unexpected find by the director while shooting scenes in France. They were filmed along the artist's driveway and the pictures later edited to create the title sequence where they appear to be on interior walls of the castle.[8]


The film premiered on 30 October 1968 (29 December 1968 London premiere).

The film earned an estimated $6.4 million in distributor rentals in the domestic North American market during its initial year of release.[9] It was the 14th most popular movie at the U.S. box office in 1969.[10]

Renata Adler of The New York Times wrote that the film was "for the most part, outdoorsy and fun, full of the kind of plotting and action people used to go to just plain movies for."[11]

Variety called it "an intense, fierce, personal drama put across by outstanding performance of Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. Anthony Harvey, a relatively new director, has done excellent work with a generally strong cast, literate adaptation by the author, and superb production values assembled by Martin H. Poll, who produced for Joseph E. Levine presentation under the Embassy banner."[12]

Roger Ebert gave the film 4 stars out of 4, writing, "One of the joys which movies provide too rarely is the opportunity to see a literate script handled intelligently. 'The Lion in Winter' triumphs at that difficult task; not since 'A Man for All Seasons' have we had such capable handling of a story about ideas. But 'The Lion in Winter' also functions at an emotional level, and is the better film, I think."[13]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times declared, "Top honors for the most literate movie of the year, and for the finest and most imaginative and fascinating evocation of an historical time and place, can be awarded this very day to 'The Lion in Winter.'"[14]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was less positive, writing that the film miscalculated in attempting to elevate the melodramatic plot "with serious emotions, more or less authentic costumes and settings, pseudo-Stravinsky music, and historical pomp. And it just won't do to have actors carrying on as if this were a genuine, 'deep' historical play on the order of 'A Man for All Seasons' ... They're playing a camp historical play as if it were the real thing—delivering commercial near-poetry as if it were Shakespeare."[15]

In a mixed review for The Monthly Film Bulletin, David Wilson called Katharine Hepburn's performance "perhaps the crowning achievement of an extraordinary career" but described the film as a whole as being "essentially a piece of highly polished theatricality, and not much else if one looks beyond its insistently sophisticated surface gloss."[16]

Rotten Tomatoes collected 43 reviews giving the film 91% approval and an average rating of 8.2/10. The critical consensus reads, "Sharper and wittier than your average period piece, The Lion in Winter is a tale of palace intrigue bolstered by fantastic performances from Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, and Anthony Hopkins in his big-screen debut."[17]

After the seeing the film, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman offered Dalton the role of James Bond for the first time, as a replacement for Sean Connery in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Dalton declined because he felt he was too young, although he would later be cast in the role in The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989).[18]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Martin Poll Nominated [19]
Best Director Anthony Harvey Nominated
Best Actor Peter O'Toole Nominated
Best Actress Katharine Hepburn Won[a]
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium James Goldman Won
Best Costume Design Margaret Furse Nominated
Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical) John Barry Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Katharine Hepburn (also for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) Won [20]
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Best Screenplay James Goldman Nominated
Best Cinematography Douglas Slocombe Nominated
Best Costume Design Margaret Furse Nominated
Best Film Music John Barry Won
Best Sound Chris Greenham and Simon Kaye Nominated
United Nations Award Anthony Harvey Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Douglas Slocombe Won [21]
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Production Martin Poll Won [22]
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Anthony Harvey Won [23]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won [24]
Best Director – Motion Picture Anthony Harvey Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Peter O'Toole Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Katharine Hepburn Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Jane Merrow Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture James Goldman Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture John Barry Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Drama Nominated [25]
Top Female Dramatic Performance Katharine Hepburn Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 7th Place [26]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won [27]
Best Actor Peter O'Toole Nominated
Best Screenplay James Goldman Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama Won [28]
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards Best British Screenplay Won [29]


The Academy Film Archive preserved The Lion in Winter in 2000.[30]

Historical accuracy

Map of France in 1180. The Vexin is located northwest of Paris, between it and Rouen.

Though the background and the eventual destinies of the characters are generally accurate, The Lion in Winter is fictional: while there was a Christmas court at Caen in 1182, there was none at Chinon in 1183. In reality, Henry had many mistresses and many illegitimate children; the "Rosamund" mentioned in the film was his mistress until she died. The Revolt of 1173–1174 provides the historical background leading to the play's events. There was also a second rebellion, when Young Henry and Geoffrey revolted in 1183, resulting in Young Henry's death. While some historians have theorized that Richard was homosexual, it is not certain.

Geoffrey died in 1186 in a jousting tournament held in Paris (with some speculation that Geoffrey was involved in plotting against Henry with Philip at the time). A third rebellion against Henry by Richard and Philip in 1189 was finally successful, and a decisively defeated Henry retreated to Chinon in Anjou, where he died. Richard the Lionheart succeeded Henry II, but spent very little time in England (perhaps 6 months), after which he became a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade, leading the campaign after the departure of Philip. Richard won some considerable victories, but he did not succeed in retaking Jerusalem. John finally succeeded Richard in 1199 after Richard's death. During his unsuccessful reign he lost most of his father's holdings in Northern France and angered the English barons, who revolted and forced him to accept and add his seal to Magna Carta. John is also known for being the villain in the Robin Hood legends. Lastly, William Marshal, who during the film is harried about by Henry II, outlived the English main characters and eventually ruled England as regent for the young Henry III.[31]

See also



  1. ^ "Joseph, Robert. "Films Come to the Emerald Isle: Emerald Isle Welcomes Films"". Los Angeles Times. 17 March 1968. p. q26.
  2. ^ "The Lion in Winter (1968)". The Numbers. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  3. ^ Smith, C. (Dec 1, 1968). "'Lion in winter'--play that refused to die". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 156111474.
  4. ^ Bergan 1996, p. 155.
  5. ^ Callan 2004, pp. 90, 100, 105.
  6. ^ Wapshott 1984, p. 145.
  7. ^ Wales hosts Hollywood blockbusters
  8. ^ Director Anthony Harvey, audio commentary in Lion in Winter, 2000.
  9. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  10. ^ "The World's Top Twenty Films", Sunday Times, [London, England], 27 September 1970: 27. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. accessed 5 April 2014
  11. ^ Adler, Renata (October 31, 1968). "Screen: James Goldman's 'Lion in Winter' Arrives". The New York Times: 54.
  12. ^ "The Lion In Winter". Variety: 6. October 23, 1968.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 4, 1968). "The Lion In Winter". Retrieved November 19, 2018.
  14. ^ Champlin, Charles (December 17, 1968). "'The Lion in Winter' Opens Run". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  15. ^ Kael, Pauline (November 9, 1968). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 189.
  16. ^ Wilson, David (March 1969). "The Lion In Winter". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 36 (422): 50.
  17. ^ "The Lion in Winter (1968)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 6 October 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  18. ^ Field, Matthew (2015). Some kind of hero : 007 : the remarkable story of the James Bond films. Ajay Chowdhury. Stroud, Gloucestershire. ISBN 978-0-7509-6421-0. OCLC 930556527.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  19. ^ "The 41st Academy Awards | 1969". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
  20. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1969". BAFTA. 1969. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  21. ^ "Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film" (PDF). Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  22. ^ "David di Donatello Awards 1968". Mubi. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  23. ^ "21st DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  24. ^ "The Lion in Winter – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  25. ^ "The Lion in Winter – Awards". IMDb. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  26. ^ "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures :: Awards". Archived from the original on December 18, 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  27. ^ "1968 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  28. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  29. ^ "Writers' Guild Awards 1969". Writers' Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  30. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  31. ^ Painter, S., William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron & Regent of England, p.268
  1. ^ Tied with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl.