The Lion In Winter
by James Goldman.
“Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It is eleven-eighty-three and we are barbarians. How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war. Not history`s forces nor the times nor justice nor the lack of it nor causes nor religions nor ideas nor kinds of government nor any other thing. We are the killers; we breed war. We carry it, like syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, cannot we love one another just a little?
James Goldman`s play, The Lion In Winter was made into an Oscar winning film in 1968. It tells the story of a Christmas get together at the castle of Chinon in 1183 of the Plantagenet family of King Henry II of England.
The language is sharp as razor blades cutting through silk, the protagonists power hungry, selfish, plotting, murderous, insincere, liars, cheats, rascals and scalliwags of the first order.
If they were not all so highly educated and intelligent, dressed in the finest robes and sporting the most expensive jewels, one would associate them with the lowest form of pond life, bereft of all the finer feelings and appearance associated with being a human being.
But, Mother knows all of her sons and husband`s unsavoury habits; Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, at once the most beautiful, passionate and intelligent woman of her age, also has the inside track on the venality of human nature. Nothing passes her attention, nor anything so small or insignificant as would go amiss with another person. She holds the keys to the kingdom of power and keeping people enthralled by a personality that dominates all.
Henry has tired of her scheming though, and keeps her in a tower overlooking Salisbury, for his own safety and peace of mind. She has plotted against him with most of her little hawks – the sons she gave to Henry. They now wish the old man gone from the scene, but he still has life and ambition enough to keep the fire burning on the home front.
So, Eleanor waits her time; the place is set for a Christmas court, when all the family bad and the great assemble to pay homage, to bicker and slide metaphorical daggers into ribs.
What Goldman does with this quarrelsome family of ingrates is nothing short of miraculous. As in life, they come across as awesomely clever, quick with word, and even quicker with temper and insult. The verbal barbs slice through air thick with animosity and filial un-love; in not so many words…….they hate each other. Each sees in the other an enemy to be dispatched, to be shoved down the list of top dogs; the ultimate prize is the job Henry currently does – King.
The problem for them all is there is always one king too many; the field of runners and riders needs to be shortened. So, plots within plots within plots are tried, and like a pair of worn gloves, thrown away when their time has come and gone.
All of this familial intrigue is played out against the still hot love between Henry and Eleanor; he just cannot trust her enough to let her free, while she in turn proceeds to spin her web and convince him she is a reformed soul who could do with a bit more freedom of movement.
Of course, the boys put a spanner in the works by behaving like spoiled brats; each one demanding to be the heir of Henry. If Henry let Eleanor out of jail, she would again prove a dangerous foe; perhaps, old as he now is, too formidable.
The dialogue sparkles and spits like raging fire from one protagonist to the other. It`s verbal ping-pong of the highest value; 24 carat wordplay.
History has never been as entertaining or enjoyable as it is in this sensational play, and wonderful movie. No matter which version you see; just go see either, because neither will disappoint. The Lion King and his wife still roars.