"Henry was 18 when we met, and I was Queen of France. He came down from the north to Paris with a mind like Aristotle and a form like mortal sin. We shattered the commandments on the spot."
So declares Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) about her estranged husband, England's King Henry II (Peter O'Toole), toward whom she still feels passion despite the fact that he's kept her locked away in France for 10 long years. As 1968's The Lion in Winter -- which is enjoying a 4K digital restoration and re-release -- opens, it is 1183, and Henry summons Eleanor to "Christmas court," where few gifts will be exchanged but many nefarious plots will be hatched, all with the goal of confirming an heir to Henry's throne. (The eldest son has died.)
The King has big plans for his youngest, the idiot John (Nigel Terry), while Eleanor favors Richard (Anthony Hopkins, in his film debut), even as the neglected middle son, Geoffrey (John Castle), waits for his parents and siblings to destroy one another so he can step into the breach.
The Lion in Winter is a classic film, but not a great one. It's clunky and overlong, as costume dramas with Shakespearean pretensions tend to be, especially back in the day. No matter. The movies we take to our hearts are usually imperfect, and all that's ever mattered about The Lion in Winter are Hepburn and O'Toole, and the pleasure we take from watching two masters inspire each other to greatness. Scenery chewing has rarely been so artful.