SCREENPLAY 101: THE LION IN WINTER

Guest blogger Greg Beal is the director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

“I should have killed you years ago,” proclaims Henry, King of England.
“There’s no one peeking. Do it now,” responds Eleanor of Aquitaine, his long-estranged wife.

Renowned for its biting dialogue, THE LION IN WINTER (#71 on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays) captures the passion drawing its powerful royal couple together while pushing them forever apart. Adapted from his own play, James Goldman’s brilliant lines spill out of the mouths of Eleanor and Henry, ravishingly portrayed by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, both Academy-nominated for their roles, with Hepburn winning her third Oscar (and her second in a row), famously tying with Barbra Streisand (in FUNNY GIRL) for the honor.

Taking place at Christmas in 1183, THE LION IN WINTER is also a story of politics and power, of three sons – Richard, Geoffrey and John – scheming to succeed their father, and of Alais, the king’s young mistress, who is betrothed to Richard. Not to mention that Eleanor was once Queen of France before that marriage was annulled, and the teenage King Phillip of France, her former husband’s son by another wife, has come to retrieve his half-sister Alais’ dowry, or see her married. (For those who don’t read history or Shakespeare, it’s GAME OF THRONES, sans dragons and multiple murders.)

While the narrative is historically significant – for son Richard is the Lionheart and son John would sign the Magna Carta in 1215 – the dialogue is what I remember and cherish. Here’s an exchange from Henry’s first meeting with Eleanor after having had her imprisoned for ten years for fomenting a revolt against his rule.

Eleanor: I don’t much like our children. (Rising, moving toward ALAIS) Only you. The child I raised but didn’t bear.
Alais: You never cared for me.
Eleanor: I did and do. Believe me, Henry’s bed is Henry’s province. He can people it with sheep for all I care. Which, one occasion, he has done.
Henry: Still that? When Rosamund’s been dead for seven years.
Eleanor: Two months and eighteen days. I never liked her much.
Henry: You count the days?
Eleanor: I made the numbers up.

James Goldman deservedly won an Oscar and a WGA Award for his screenplay (in advance of his brother Bill by a year – yes, sibling rivalries abound, even if benign in this case). THE LION IN WINTER was also nominated for Best Picture and won a third Oscar for John Barry’s score.

The selected pages 142-144 depict the final confrontation after his sons have gathered to kill Henry. The screenplay held in the WGF Library is a Second Draft, Revised 6th November (1967). The film went into production that month at Ardmore Studios in Ireland and premiered in the US on October 30, 1968.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: LA GRANDE ILLUSION

Guest blogger Greg Beal is the director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

How’s this for a miracle? During World War II, the negative of LA GRANDE ILLUSION (written by Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak, number 85 of the WGA’s List of 101 Greatest Screenplays) was destroyed in an allied bombing raid of Paris. Or so it was thought. It turned out the Nazis had stolen the negative of the film Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declared “Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1,” along with hundreds of others, and moved them to Berlin. Safe in the Reichsfilmarchiv vaults, the French films survived the war (though they did detour to Moscow first, but that’s another story).

The pages excerpted below depict the film’s centerpiece scene, a song-and-dance extravaganza in drag in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Amidst the gleeful insanity, Jean Gabin’s Maréchal bursts onto the stage to announce that the French army has retaken Douaument and, to the chagrin of the German guards, the French and British prisoners leap to their feet to sing “La Marseillaise.” The exquisite moment, later reprised in CASABLANCA, is captured by Renoir’s floating camera as it sweeps past face after face of the joyous allied airmen.

In addition to its standing as one of greatest anti-war films (and as the first foreign film to be Academy nominated for Best Picture), LA GRANDE ILLUSION is also the story of humanity and understanding, friendship and sacrifice, love and loss, and class and racism.  The treatment of the Jewish officer Rosenthal (played by Marcel Dalio) prefigured what was soon to escalate in Nazi Germany.

Charles Spaak’s treatment for LA GRANDE ILLUSION (reprinted in Andre Bazin’s Renoir) includes one last illusion:  as they escape to Switzerland, the former mechanic Maréchal and the nouveau riche Rosenthal (Dolette in the treatment) agree to meet for dinner at Maxim’s in Paris after the war. The final, never filmed shot was to be of an empty table at Maxim’s, marked “Reserved,” for these two men, such able friends during captivity and escape, apparently couldn’t overcome the strictures of class and race to meet again.


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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: 8 1/2

(Editor’s note: Today’s installment of Screenplay 101 is brought to you by Greg Beal, director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. If you like what you see, remember that Greg will be at our spring screenwriting symposium, FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FEATURE, on April 12. Click here for more info.)

Where to begin? At the beginning – with one of the most famous opening scenes in film history – a traffic jam in Rome, a man whose face we haven’t seen surrounded by faces, staring at him, and then his car fills with smoke, and he can’t escape, until he manages to climb through a window and begins floating over the cars, godlike, into the clouds, over a beach . . .?

Or at the end – with one of the most famous closing scenes in film history – the man, Guido, a film director, on a beach, a film set, the spaceship scaffolding behind him, just reconciled with his wife, surrounded by his movie’s cast – and then the clown band begins playing Nino Rota’s magical music, and the cast members holding hands, dancing and marching into the night . . .?

Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ (Screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rond. Story by Fellini, Flaiano. #87 of the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays) is the most magisterial of films, without question one of the most influential movies ever made. Or, if the film critic and note giver Daumier is to be believed when he discusses the movie’s scenario with Guido: “You see, a first reading makes plain the lack of a central idea that establishes the problematic of the film or, if you wish, of a philosophical premise . . . and therefore the film becomes a series of absolutely gratuitous episodes. Because of their ambiguous realism, they may even be amusing.”

Or I can briefly discuss the ending that isn’t in the movie – a train sequence featuring Guido and his wife Luisa, copied below. After shooting had ended, the producers asked Fellini to shoot a trailer and so he gathered the entire cast on the beach and shot a great deal of footage. Later one of his collaborators suggested that the train ending was simply too bleak and why not replace it with material shot for the trailer. Fellini considered and then reedited the film – the trailer became the ending – and the train sequence disappeared.

Ah, but what gratuity, and what amusement. 8 ½ has defined what it is to be a filmmaker for all of us, presaging Paul Mazursky’s Alex in Wonderland, Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, to mention only a few. Ah, but still, what three pages? – if only they could be dubbed in post: you’ll just have to look below.

(Another Editor’s Note: Heck, here’s all of ’em. These pages are from the continuity script, and include the first few pages as well as the train sequence Greg mentions above.)

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).