The movie is notable for marking the film debut of two future stars. Anthony Hopkins of Hannibal Lector fame made his screen debut as Richard the Lionheart. And Timothy Dalton, who later starred as James Bond, debuted as young King Philip II of France.
This film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Costume Design and Best Music Score. It won three Oscars--Best Actress for Katharine Hepburn, Best Music Score for John Barry and Best Screenplay for James Goldman.
I've picked an excerpt which occurs in the first half hour of the film and which gives you a sense of the humor, the drama and the intrigue.
The setting is Christmas, 1183 in Chinon, France, home of King Henry II of England.
As the movie opens, Henry (Peter O'Toole) is now fifty years old. He's enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace--largely because the king of France was dying and because Henry had imprisoned his own queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), after she led a rebellion against him. But two incidents have changed the balance of power.
First, Louis VII of France died in 1180, leaving his fifteen-year-old son as heir to the throne. Now, three years later, the young French king is old enough to flex his muscles.
Second, six months before the film starts, Henry's own heir died of dysentery. This was the second of his sons by Eleanor to die. Henry must now name a new heir from among his three youngest sons: Richard the Lionheart, Geoffrey and John. He favors the youngest, John, while his wife favors the oldest, Richard.
To complicate matters, Henry has made Alais--Richard's fiancee and a princess of France--his mistress. Richard wants Alais back, and Henry wants Richard to give him the Aquitaine, a very rich parcel of land. Meanwhile, young King Philip wants his sister married or her dowry back.
The film opens with Henry deciding to hold a Christmas court. He releases Eleanor from prison and invites his three sons and Philip of France to visit.
Oh, by the way, I should mention that Eleanor was once married to Louis VII of France. She divorced him to marry Henry of England. Philip is, therefore, the son of her ex-husband. Her current husband, of course, is sleeping with Alais, Philip's half-sister.
And, just to liven things up, Richard and Philip were once lovers.
Are you beginning to get a sense of the complicated family situation here?
The film is great fun; it is at once witty and terrible in what it says about families and power.