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  • Writer's picturePaul

It's a game we must find balance in


Video Length: 2:06 min

Peter O’Toole holds the record for most Academy Award nominations for “Best Actor”, seven times, without a win. He is also the only actor in history to be nominated for the Academy Award for “Best Actor” portraying the same character, in two completely different films.

As England’s King Henry II in the film “Becket” (1964), he is engaged in a political/theological war with his former friend, the nation’s Catholic Archbishop Thomas Becket (Richard Burton). Four years later, in the “Lion in Winter” (1968), Henry II is involved in a war of succession to the English throne with his wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn, who won the 1968 Oscar for Best Actress).

The film is rounded out with Henry and Eleanor’s rebellious son’s, Prince Richard (Anthony Hopkins in his second film), Prince Geoffrey (John Castle), Prince John (Nigel Terry) and power-hungry King Phillip II of France (Timothy Dalton in his film debut) all trying to claim the throne.

What makes the “Lion in Winter” the masterpiece that it is, besides casting, costumes and script, is the fact that it is about life and family. The witty repartee between the actors, each tearing their way through their scenes which end in the most unexpected of ways is memorizing. The film is a comedy, disguised as a drama that is telling a love story. The “Lion In Winter” is about life, family and what will be remembered about that family when the history is written.

Description & Discussion:

Lion In Winter - "A proud, prominent, strong man whose great strength and dignity have been eroded by age and adversity.” The quintessential example of a Lion In Winter is England's King Henry II, from James Goldman's play "Lion in Winter". The title of the play combines the image of the British royal lion with the winter of old age and its mounting hardships. The King does not have an heir he trusts, and his three living sons, each conspiring with his wife, the Queen, to put themselves on the throne when Henry is gone. In spite of their love for one another, both Henry and Eleanor lie to each other constantly to keep the other off guard and to obtain the power to name the next king. They are both lion and lioness to each other, in a power struggle that has this one on top then the another one and round and round it goes with Henry always ending up on the throne.

As King of England, Henry is in a position of power but this is as close as it gets to hubris. He is arrogant, demanding, and the decisions he makes are not questioned, except by his family, the King of France, and Henry’s mistress, Alice, who happens to be the little sister of the King of France. Eleanor, the Queen that Henry does not trust, is confined in her own castle all year long until the Christmas season. When she arrives at Court, she is ready once again to wage civil war against her husband to see her favorite son, Richard, on the throne. There lies the influence of family dysfunction embedded throughout the story.

Any artist, literary or visual, has one goal in mind and that is to create an emotional response in the audience, a cathartic cleansing of conflicting emotions. The audience sometimes empathizes with one of the characters, such as Alice who loves Henry, but Henry uses her as a pawn in the game that takes place throughout the film. The story elicits emotional responses from the audience as the personalities of the characters ebb and flow with changes that are sudden and unexpected. In the end, the film gives the audience hope for Henry and Eleanor with small scenes showing the deep love they once had for one another as Eleanor, beaten, but unbent, prepares to return to her isolation. The most staggering aspect of the film is that the audience has been emotionally manipulated and, in the end, there is no resolution about who will follow Henry on to the throne.

Decision, Design & Discipline:

The “Lion in Winter” has been my favorite film for over 35 years when I saw it at a film festival in Washington DC. Every actor in it has done other work in films that I can enjoy over and over, but “Lion in Winter”, nothing comes near it.

Upon reflection, and very likely over a hundred viewings, is the story of balance between all of the key players. They scheme, plot, and plan nefarious acts against one another, and yet moments of affection, love, and caring will appear if only momentarily. They all mean well, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s family, its business, its opportunities lost or found and it’s a game we must find balance in to have any hope for success in life.

As we have developed the “Leaders Library”, each contributor has commented on good leadership, the mindset needed to make the hard decisions and the need to ensure the continuity of operations. Every human endeavor and emotion can be found in this film, and as you observe the characters, you will see people you know and some you know very well.

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