By Joan Amenn
Nothing says the holidays like gatherings of dysfunctional families and it doesn’t get much worse than the family of Henry Plantagenet. More commonly known as King Henry II (Peter O’Toole), he springs Queen Eleanor (Katherine Hepburn) from imprisonment to reunite with their ingrateful, greedy children for a Christmas pageant. This is for the benefit of his nobles who more likely than not would knife him in the back if they had the chance. Turns out, his own sons are scheming against him but Eleanor has plans of her own and she is the most formidable opponent of them all. Hepburn and O’Toole are magnificent of course, the dialog is infinitely quotable and a young Anthony Hopkins is heartbreaking as Richard before he became Lionhearted, if he ever truly was. His scenes with Hepburn are electric but the entire cast is outstanding. Son Geoffrey (John Castle) states that they are a “knowing family” (and whatever became of the real Geoffrey? Does history tell us?) and they are indeed aware of the treachery each is capable of. However, there is true affection and respect between Henry and Eleanor even if there can never be anything deeper due to politics. Hepburn was never so touchingly vulnerable in her long career as when she looks in the mirror at herself and contemplates her inevitable return to isolated confinement. O’Toole was robbed of an Oscar for his performance as the conflicted, complicated Henry; loving the power of his throne but rueful at how fleeting his reign will be and dreading what will come afterward. As he says to Eleanor, “I hope we never die!” When she replies she also hopes so he answers, “Do you think there is any chance of it?” Oh Henry, there is more than a Christmas miracle of a chance!