Period pictures featuring real historical characters always enjoyed great popularity, but in the 1960s they literally triumphed at the movies. It is the case of The Lion in Winter, winner of two Golden Globes (Best Drama and Best Actor, Peter O'Toole once more!), out of seven nominations. The Lion in Winter was destined to succeed. Not only did it have the necessary historical intrigue but it carried the extra bonus of featuring two stars (O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn) at the top of their form and some brilliant newcomers, all trading barbs and insults in James Goldman's witty and entertaining script (adapted from his own theater play).
It's Christmas 1183, and King Henry II (O'Toole) is planning to announce his successor to the throne. The jockeying for the crown, though, is complex. Henry has three sons and wants his boy Prince John to take over. Henry's wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), has other ideas. She believes their son Prince Richard (Anthony Hopkins) should be king. As the family and various schemers gather for the holiday, each tries to make the indecisive king choose their option.
Filmed on locations in France and the UK, the film also provided Katharine Hepburn (who subsequently won the Oscar – at the Globes she lost to Joanne Woodward for Rachel, Rachel) with some much-needed focus and a new lease on her long acting career. After Spencer Tracy's death in 1967, many people believed Hepburn would retire from acting. When she received the screenplay for Lion and learned Peter O'Toole (who she had championed early in his career) would play Henry, she jumped at the chance to return to work. "What was fascinating about the play was how modern it was," Hepburn said. "This wasn't about pomp and circumstance but about a family, a wife trying to protect her dignity and a mother protecting her children."
The story was remade for television in 2003 with Patrick Stewart as Henry and Glenn Close as Eleanor. For O'Toole (who won his third Golden Globe as best actor – he would get another one the following year for Goodbye, Mr. Chips), this was the second time he played King Henry II of England in a film, after Becket (1964). O'Toole was very fond of this character, but more so of Hepburn: “I adore her”, he often said, and named his daughter Kate after the great actress.