James Goldman wrote the screenplay of the multi Oscar winning movie The Lion In Winter, based upon his stage play of the same name. Years afterwards he acknowledged that he felt sorry for his character assassination of Prince John, and decided to remedy matters by writing a novel based upon John`s life as king.
It takes us on a helter skelter ride through John`s hectic schedule as monarch, from taking over from his war mongering mad brother Richard, the loss of his ancestral lands in France, excommunication by the papacy for bad mouthing and intimidating the English clergy, to Magna Carta. Sixteen years sliding down hill towards the inevitable anti-climax of civil war and a French invasion. To cap it all, he lost his treasure crossing the Wash in East Anglia.
When looking at the bare facts, it`s no wonder that no one remembers him as Good King John. Still, Goldman does a wonderful job of putting flesh on the bones of one of England`s most contradictory monarchs. We see that John had great potential, but there was always something of the night about him. One moment he could be overflowing with generosity, the next ordering hostages to be taken, incarceration, or down right murder; because he cannot believe that people would be loyal to him, pushing away those who loved him; he trusted no one. His formidable family haunted him every single minute..…..” I`m not Henry, Eleanor or Richard – I`m John!” His paranoia fed upon his failures as a general and king, and led him to self destruction.
Myself as Witness is a thoughtful and subtle portrait of a man who had undoubted intelligence and talent as a king and politician, but ultimately, like a tiny crack in a priceless antique vase which spreads until the vessel breaks, John`s character flaws would lose him everything he valued.