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.
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).