Every year at this time, popular media will trot out its varying lists of the best Christmas films. On these lists there are films which aren’t technically about Christmas, but which Christmas is the setting; the day, days leading up to, and activities for, are the backdrop for the story. Something like Die Hard may come to mind, and there are even people whom say that the story of It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t really about Christmas if you think about it – a guy wanting to end it all…really? A Christmas film?
My entry for this sub-set of films is one of my favorites, and for good reason – classic Peter O’Toole.
1968’s Lion in Winter is the semi-fictional account of the personal and political turmoil faced by England’s king Henry II (O’Toole) during Christmas in the year 1183. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn, whom won the best actress Oscar for this role), is, by this time, more a political prisoner whom Henry can’t let go lest she conspire against him with their sons Richard (a young Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey, and John for his throne. Throw in the King of France (an even younger Timothy Dalton) as a holiday guest, there to haggle over treaties and territory, and you have a perfect recipe for medieval mayhem. O’Toole as Henry sums up the situation fairly well in one scene: “Shall we hang the holly, or each other?”
Lion was one of eight best actor academy award nominations for Peter O’Toole, none of which he ever won. O’Toole’s life and career are profiled in a new book, Peter O’Toole: The Definitive Biography. In a famous line from My Favorite Year (1982), where O’Toole plays a self-referential, playboy actor, he exclaims “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”.
No Peter, you were both…and more.