Whatevah Shall We Do with Mothah?: The Lion in Winter with Hepburn and O’Toole (for Parterre Box)

Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter.

David Fox: Cameron, our last excursion into the Katharine Hepburn film oeuvre focused on a superb late-career performance that should be far better known. Playing Agnes in A Delicate Balance, she dispatched Edward Albee’s brittle verboseness with all the wit and brilliance one could ask for. Now, we’re turning our attention to a much more celebrated Hepburn movie from a few years earlier: The Lion in Winter. This, of course, was the source of her third Oscar, in a famous tie win with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. (If only the two had reversed roles!) Lion, too, is based on a hit Broadway play (by James Goldman,) but of course this one has a completely different setting—a battle royal on the coast of France in the 12th century. And yet, watching the two movies a week apart, I’m struck more by the similarities. Basically, Lion is A Delicate Balance… set in 1183! So, we get wimples rather than caftans, mead standing in for martinis, and Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn, of course) instead of Tobias of Aquascutum.

Cameron Kelsall: I feel the need to make a slight correction, David: Although Rosemary Harris won her only (!) Tony Award for playing Eleanor onstage, the original Broadway production was actually a flop, closing in just two months. The film adaptation, which came out two years later, did much to rehabilitate the property’s reputation—it was nominated for seven Oscars and won three, including Hepburn’s. The Albee comparison is apt, since Goldman intentionally styled his play like a contemporary comedy of manners, forgoing ye olde speech in favor of a steady barrage of bon mots. But even Albee at his most arch is far more redeemable than what’s on display here. I’ve never seen the play onstage, but Goldman’s Oscar-winning script barely rises to the level of boulevard comedies of the era. You’ll find more depth in Cactus Flower or Any Wednesday, and be spared the pretentious posturing that comes with period intrigue…

Click here to read the full post at Parterre Box.

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