The King’s Screen: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

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Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in ‘The Lion in Winter’ (photo source: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery)

In 1968, Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar playing Eleanor of Aquitaine to Peter O’Toole’s Henry II in The Lion in Winter, a peculiar movie filled with modern-day vulgarisms and Penguin Freud characterizations of their royal sons. “I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice!” quacks a tremulous Hepburn at one point, so that “pear” comes out as “peh-ah.” The film is basically an extremely watchable duel between Hepburn’s flat New England vowels and O’Toole’s booming English howls of rage and grief. Histrionic royal fireworks have never looked quite so silly or been quite so unreasonably entertaining.

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