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The Lion in Winter

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  7,417 Ratings  ·  124 Reviews
It is Christmas of 1183, and Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine are, for once, together in the drafty castle at Chinon. For all their regal status, they are much like any long-estranged but inseparably married couple: Henry flaunts his new mistress; Eleanor plots against him with their sons. They will do anything they can to hurt each other. and they love each ot ...more
Hardcover, 126 pages
Published September 1st 1966 by Amereon House (first published 1966)
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What shall we hang, the holly or each other?

If that sounds like something you'd hear (or say) at one of your holiday gatherings, then it's time for this Festivus classic. Wait, Festivus classic? Absolutely. While Die Hard may be an alternate Christmas classic for those who avoid the overly heartwarming by watching Bruce Willis blow stuff up real good, this is the movie (play, I meant play!*) for those who prefer their explosions verbal and emotional.

But why Festivus and not Christmas? This is
I've just spent a happy Saturday finishing this delicious book, which did live up to expectations.

Henry and Eleanor's dynamics in this play would perhaps be best described as "a loving hate relationship," for you never are sure what exactly they feel for each other till the final scene, when you realise they are each other's weakness. The dialogue is wonderfully snarky and poisonously witty, it's like watching the two greatest swordsmen of the time duel for hours and hours non-stop, only that b
Feb 22, 2015 Laura marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
Apr 10, 2016 Monica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, fiction
I confess that I'm rating the movie (1968) along with this play. I couldn't divorce the two in my mind when reading the play. The movie follows the play entirely with the movie adding the settings that help to comprehend the play. The movie is among my favorites of all time specifically because of the word play and the dialogue. And with Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor or Aquitaine...well it simply doesn't get any better. This play is a brilliant representation of family dynamics and politics on st ...more


Despite its obvious inaccuracies this is still my favourite fiction about Henry and Eleanor. Love the snark!!
Dec 23, 2014 Courtnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, plays

I have a problem with despicable people. I have a bias against them, so shoot me. If you suck, I garner no enjoyment from your suckdom, and therefore will not typically read a book that is strictly about lying, conniving, murderous, adulterous, dare I say slimy?, people. Though we know little of their true personalities, I believe those adjectives could easily fit Henry II, his wife Eleanor and their crew, based on documented wars and murders alone.

But I did, enjoy it that is, an
Apr 11, 2012 jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the play that the movie came from, and it's one of the most exciting and witty plays written. My edition has an interesting introduction by Goldman in which he relates how many people believe that the movie was made because the play was a big hit, which wasn't true. It was the movie, released over two years after the play had closed its brief Broadway run (with Christopher Walken as King Philip) that turned the play into a classic.

It's Christmas, 1183, and the three princes, Richard, Geo
Dec 15, 2015 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
This medieval story has a modern feel to it so that its message becomes timeless. This most dysfunctional family celebrates Christmas with betrayal and love, if not in equal parts, then with equal fervor.

The best review of the play I read included the line, "King Lear" meets "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Recommended, especially because the Hepburn/O'Toole film does not have English subtitles and the word play is too precious to guess at.
Feb 22, 2015 Susana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The love of power, the power of love and the power of power. Lovely. Those are the three things the play is about according to Michael Mayer, one of its directors.

I've just watched two plays that have absolutely nothing to do with one another despite being pretty much about the same thing: a dysfunctional family get-together for a special occasion (Christmas in one, the grandfather's suicide in the other). The one is the Lion in Winter, the other August: Osage county.

It's Christmas 1183. Henry I
Feb 02, 2016 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At Christmas 1183 at Chinon, Henry II of England brings his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine out of her prison to spend the holidays with their sons Richard, John and Geoffrey. Included in these unusual festivities are the French King Phillip II and Henry's mistress Alais. At issue is the question of the succession: who comes next after Henry's gone? The sons are all scheming for their place and the bitterness runs deep in this family. As Eleanor says near the end when all feels lost "What family doesn ...more
Mar 27, 2010 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
This is a fabulous show. Well written and intriguing. The audience watches as Henry II and his estranged Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, gather together with their boys, France's prince, and Henry's mistress for a Christmas holiday. A young Richard the Lionheart debates with his brothers for the crown, struggles with his father for a wife, fights to hide an indiscretion, and plots to keep his land. Prince Geoffery schemes and Prince John snivels. Alais, Henry's mistress and Richard's fiance, is pla ...more
Eric Kibler
Apr 03, 2012 Eric Kibler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm about to start rehearsing to play Richard in this play, which goes up in June. It's a revisiting. I read it in college when I helped build the set for an OSU theater department production. Eight years later I played Geoffrey in a community theater version. Now on to Richard.

The play takes place on a Christmas Day in the twelfth century, and concerns a unique dysfuctional family who just happen to be the Royal Family of England. There's the father, Henry II, trying to effect a peaceful transi
THIS IS A GREAT PLAY. So great that I have resorted to caps-lock, which is not something I do too much. Seriously. There are so many great quotes that I wanted to set aside and come back to later, and I did start copying them down until it became apparent that I'd be copying down the whole script and I was better off just reading it again. Which I did.
If you'd rather watch it, I highly recommend the Katharine Hepburn/Peter O'Toole classic. It's remarkably faithful to the script and, of course, v
Laura Wilson
May 01, 2016 Laura Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Savy, intelligent, rapid-fire dialogue; a family reunion that makes all others pale in comparison; a game of who can and who can you not trust, all wrapped up into a short read that will make you smile. Yes--you should read this book.

My recommendation--listen to the audiobook. The actors who voiced these characters are absolutely brilliant!
Isaac Timm
Nov 30, 2015 Isaac Timm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, 2015
A brilliant play that fits well with Shakespeare Histories I've been reading. But more then that it had a strong intelligent modernist voice. Brevity at it's most elegant, with what not said being as important as what is said.
Lisa Feld
Sep 01, 2014 Lisa Feld rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: carolina
Goldman uses a really interesting technique here, since this play requires a ton of exposition to explain the backstory: that Henry II celebrates Christmas with three of his sons, who have all plotted rebellion against him at some point; his wife Eleanor, whom he locked up for inciting those rebellions; Alais, his son's fiancée, whom Henry has taken as a mistress; and his sworn enemy, Philip, king of France and son of Eleanor's ex-husband. Goldman makes these facts the grist of old family argume ...more
May 18, 2010 Marija rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I truly do love this play. The writing's devilishly good and wickedly fun. Some lines are real gems. To me, it doesn't matter that the story's one of fiction. The play in essence gives life to these people and makes them seem more real. And given my knowledge of the history of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the lives of their children, some of the themes addressed in the play do indeed seem plausible.
Henry and elanore being who thety are have problems. Regal problems that can't be solved in a simple fashion.
The play really is a masterpiece of words and a delightful chess game between two string willed royals who are used to getting their own way. Now they must make cibsessions and learn to work together for the common good and to find themselves together as a team.
Jul 31, 2011 ☯Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
A whirlwind look at a completely dysfunctional family under the guise of history. It supposedly represents Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their children in a conflict over who will replace Henry when he dies. There is much conniving, fighting, threatening and general mayhem throughout the play. I soon got bored and any intelligent person will too.
Kenneth Valentine
Sharp, biting and exquisitely wicked, "The Lion In Winter" is a masterpiece of how power is thicker than blood! It's Christmas, 1183, and King Henry II knows he has reached the age where he must decide who will rule his kingdom when he is gone. He has built the greatest empire in Europe sine Alexander, and his wife (Queen Ealanor of Acquitaine) and his sons (Richard, Jeffrey and John) spend the holiday bickering, squabbling and backstabbing while they host the King of France.

This story is an am
I’m not sure if Molina is the best Henry II I’ve seen or heard, but this performance of the play is darn good. The repartee is well done and even with just the audio you can hear the passion and disgust that Henry Eleanor feel for each other.
I have long loved the movie based on this play and thought of it again when reading about William Marshal, a knight who served Henry II (as well as his sons).

And the play did not disappoint, though I can't read Eleanor of Aquitaine's lines without hearing Katharine Hepburn's voice. And the great 12th century English monarch does sound a lot like a certain Irish actor who flourished in the 20th century.

The dialogue is delicious and the basic idea of the play intriguing -- portraying the dynastic
Jul 16, 2015 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it’s because, by 2015, soap opera style theatrics in historic settings is old hat, but I found The Lion in Winter overwrought, awkward, and too fond of playing it safe. Covering the machinations of Henry and Eleanor over a few days during the holiday season, The Lion in Winter creates a cast of easily-swayed, inconsistent characters who all want power. It’s a popular subject – especially on television these days – and I didn’t find The Lion in Winter’s dramatics as interesting as some of t ...more
Beverlee  Couillard
This is one of my all-time favorite books. The dialog is so wonderful. The characters well-drawn, and the writing is gorgeous. The time of the Plantagenets is, for me, one of the most interesting historical periods, and I have two book shelves filled with books from this period. It is a time of violence, high drama and fascinating people. This book was staged on Broadway and become my all-time favorite movie. I read this book shortly after it's publication, so I can't remember the date I finishe ...more
From The Inward Sources.

That was the hardest book to find ever, so it’s a good thing that’s so good that not even anticipation ruined it for me. Seriously: IT’S VERY GOOD.

(Honestly, to get that book was the most difficult thing, I had to pass tests and solve riddles (almost). I finally got it from the hidden archives of my ex-University (my sister had to withdraw it for me, because after only 2 months of having graduated, I couldn’t use the uni library anymore), but now I can’t wait to have mone
Sep 15, 2012 Danya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, dark
I cannot hope to write everything I think and feel concerning this play in one review, but I'll do my best. It is, to be frank, absolutely incredible. It's one of the wittiest things I've ever read. It's also one of the most delightfully cruel things I've ever read. It is filled with countless manipulations, plots, schemes, threats, and lies. The Plantagenets as represented in this play exemplify the thin line between love and hate. The manipulations and plots are so subtle and interwoven that e ...more
I am reserving a star rating until I see the play (or, more likely, one of the films), since it is so difficult to judge a play based on a reading without a performance as well, especially one with as much mood whiplash as this one.

I can't help but think that a number of future political dramas and even action thrillers were inspired in part by this play, with the constant plotting, scheming, backstabbing, and turning of tables -- and the fact that it ultimately neither changes nor decides anyth
Apr 04, 2015 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fierce creatures. All these characters are fierce and brutal in their words in their quest for the throne. I just spent an afternoon reading this play and could not put it down. I loved the witty but petty characters trading insults and allegiances. I loved the female characters who are as brutal and also vulnerable as the males that dominate them. I also love British history and absorbed the characterization of these historical figures.
Mike Jensen
Remember when this play seemed absolutely vital? Unfortunately, it is past its sell-by date. The scene in Phillip's rooms is utterly phony, the ending creaks, and the constant manipulation gets tired. Perhaps I would feel differently if I saw a perfectly balanced and amazingly acted performance. Well, there would still be that stupid scene if Phillips room. There is still much that is great about this play, but it is not a great play.
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Goldman grew up in a Jewish family in Highland Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and obtained a BA degree at Oberlin College in 1952 and an MA degree at Columbia University in 1956.His brother was the late James Goldman, author and playwright.

William Goldman had published five novels and had three plays produced on Broadway before he began to write screenplays. Several of his novels he later used
More about William Goldman...

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“I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family.” 24 likes
“Give me a little peace.
A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now, there's a thought.”
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