The Lion in Winter

This article is about the 1966 play. For the 1968 film, see The Lion in Winter (1968 film). For the 2003 made-for-television film, see The Lion in Winter (2003 film).

The Lion in Winter is a 1966 play by James Goldman, depicting the personal and political conflicts of Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their children and their guests during Christmas, 1183. It premiered on Broadway at the Ambassador Theatre on March 3, 1966, starring Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris, who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Eleanor. It was adapted by Goldman into an Academy Award-winning 1968 film of the same name, starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. The play has been produced numerous times, including Broadway and West End revivals.


Set during Christmas 1183 at Henry II of England's castle in Chinon, Anjou, Angevin Empire, the play opens with the arrival of Henry's wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he has had imprisoned since 1173. The story concerns the gamesmanship between Henry, Eleanor, their three surviving sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John, and their Christmas Court guest, the King of France, Philip II Augustus (French: Philippe Auguste), who was the son of Eleanor's ex-husband, Louis VII of France (by his third wife, Adelaide). Also involved is Philip's half-sister Alais (by Louis VII's second wife Constance), who has been at court since she was betrothed to Richard at age eight, but has since become Henry's mistress.


The play premiered at the Ambassador Theatre on March 3, 1966. Directed by Noel Willman, it starred Robert Preston as Henry, Rosemary Harris as Eleanor, James Rado as Richard, and Christopher Walken as Philip. Harris won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.

The play was performed with a racially diverse cast in 1992 by the multicultural chamber theatre Excaliber Productions at The Wabash Triangle Cafe in St. Louis. Darryl Maximilian Robinson directed and starred as King Henry II with actresses Anna Altman and Deborah Phillips alternating as Queen Eleanor. The 12th-century costumes were by Anjula Chan, who also appeared as Princess Alais. Animated film voice-over actor Carey S. Means played Prince Richard the Lionheart.[1]

The play was revived on Broadway in March 1999, starring Laurence Fishburne as Henry and Stockard Channing as Eleanor, directed by Michael Mayer. Channing was nominated for a Tony.

The play was produced by Unseam'd Shakespeare Company in 2002.[2]

The play was revived in November 2011 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, starring Robert Lindsay as Henry, and Joanna Lumley as Eleanor, directed by Trevor Nunn.

The play formed part of the Summer and Fall 2012 Seasons at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse, presented in complementary repertory with William Shakespeare's King John.

The play was performed as part of Berkshire Theatre Group's 2013 season with Rhys Boatwright as Geoffrey.

A 2014 production by the Colony Theater Company in Burbank, California starred Mariette Hartley as Eleanore and Ian Buchanan as Henry. Brendan Ford played Richard and Hartley's daughter Justine, Alais.



The Lion in Winter is fictional and none of the dialogue and actions are historical; there was not a Christmas Court at Chinon in 1183. However, the events leading up to the story are generally accurate. There is no definitive evidence that Alais was Henry's mistress (although Richard later resisted marrying Alais on the basis of this claim). The real Henry had many mistresses (and several illegitimate children). Eleanor had persuaded their sons to rebel against Henry in 1173, and for her role in the rebellion she was imprisoned by Henry until his death in 1189.

Dramatic adaptations


The play was adapted into a 1968 film, with Peter O'Toole as Henry and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor, and a 2003 television movie, with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close.

Pastiches and parodies

A radio parody of The Lion in Winter entitled The Leopard in Autumn by Neil Anthony was originally broadcast in BBC Radio 4 in 2001 and 2002 and subsequently re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra in 2011. Broadcast in two series, it starred David Swift as Prince Ludovico, the ambitious and henpecked ruler of Monte Guano (the smallest and most inconsequential city-state in Renaissance Italy), Siân Phillips as his wife Princess Plethora, Graham Crowden as Francesco (Ludovico's perpetually drunken secretary), Saskia Wickham as Countess Rosalie (Ludovico's mistress [with Plethora's full knowledge and approval]), and as Ludovico's perpetually squabbling sons: Nick Romero as the overly religious Salvatore (whose ambition is to become Pope some day), Paul Bigley as Allesandro (an eternally hopeful would-be artist and inventor) and Christopher Kellen as Guido (a fierce follower of Martin Luther).

The Fox TV drama Empire is explicitly based on The Lion in Winter. It concerns a dysfunctional family that owns a record label named Empire, with all the members scheming and manipulating for power. There are numerous allusions to the play: the family is named Lyon, the father runs an empire while the mother, a very formidable woman, has been imprisoned for many years. Together, they have three sons: a serious, studious, master manipulator son; an intelligent, talented son, who is gay and the mother's favorite but rejected by the father; and a youngest son who is a favorite of the father, but who is spoiled and irresponsible. The recently freed mother schemes with the father and three sons for control of their empire, while at the same time slinging numerous verbal barbs at each other.[4]

See also


  1. St. Louis Post-Dispatch December 1, 1992 Theatre Review by Joe Pollack: "The Lion In Winter Could Use Seasoning."
  3. Palmer, R. Barton (2009). "Queering the Lionheart: Richard I in The Lion in Winter on stage and screen". In Kathleen Coyne Kelly & Tison Pugh. Queer movie medievalisms. Ashgate. p. 58.

External links

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