“The Lion in Winter”
Written by James Goldman
Directed by Angela Marinella
Set in Castle Chinon, in France, in the year 1183, “The Lion in Winter” is a brilliantly written play of intrigue, suspense and strategic “one-upsmanship” between the members of a royal family over Christmas weekend.
Based on the historically factual family of King Henry II, the play imagines the conversations, alliances, threats and bargains that occur as Henry’s three sons position themselves to succeed their father to become the next King of England. The dialogue is sharp and taut, the drama is intense with sudden unexpected bursts of comedy, and the characters are delightfully devious.
“The Lion in Winter” has been made into two movies – one of them winning several academy awards in 1968 (starring Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton).
But before the cinematic successes of the movies, it was a play by James Goldman, and considered to be one of the best-written plays of the 20th century.
King Henry II of England, was one of the most powerful Kings in England’s history. At the time of his reign, he ruled England and half of France. He was a thoughtful and clever king, and created many lasting innovations in the tax law, and the legal system, including Trial by Jury, which we practice today. His obsession was trying to keep his empire intact after he was gone. Who would succeed him as King of England was of the greatest importance to Henry.
The Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (the richest province in Europe), has been let out of her prison for the Christmas Holidays – she has been under house arrest for the past ten years for leading a revolt against King Henry. She is a powerful and brilliant woman, and wealthy, too.
Young King Phillip of France has been sent for to address the terms of the treaty between England and France and is in attendance at Castle Chinon over the weekend.
Each of Henry’s sons (Richard, Geoffrey and John) wishes to succeed Henry as King. Eleanor has her favorite for the crown – Richard.
Richard (Lionheart) is the oldest living son. He is a consummate soldier and a capable military commander, fierce and direct. But he led a revolt against Henry. So Henry has chosen to favor John, his youngest son, to succeed him.
Geoffrey is the middle son and no one’s choice for King. But Geoffrey is very smart – perhaps the most intelligent of the entire family. He is biding his time, and looking to position himself in power.
John is the youngest son – 16 and undisciplined. He is the opposite of Richard, but is less concerned about his future. He is “Daddy’s favorite” and he knows it.
Phillip is the young King of France. He know whoever is king next is his ally – or his opponent. He is willing to consider alliances, but clearly has ideas of his own and is always looking to exploit the dysfunction of Henry’s family.
Phillip’s sister, the Princess Alais, has been betrothed to Henry’s eldest son Richard as part of a treaty, but that has been complicated by the romantic relationship that has evolved between herself and King Henry.
There is much at stake . . . The Throne, The Princess, the Aquitaine and the future of England itself.