Don't play a scene with me," Richard the Lionhearted (Andrew Howard) warns his manipulative mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Glenn Close). Come now, impetuous prince. Acting is what this costume drama is all about.
The new Lion in Winter uses the same James Goldman script as the 1968 movie starring the late Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, which was based on Goldman's Broadway play. There's no compelling purpose for this remake other than to give Close a shot at the Hepburn part (for which Kate was cowinner of an Oscar with Funny Girl's Barbra Streisand) and Patrick Stewart the chance to roar like O'Toole as Eleanor's husband, England's King Henry II.
The two stars rise royally to the occasion as Eleanor and Henry wrangle in 1183 over which of their three sons will be the king's designated successor. Eleanor favors belligerent Richard, while Henry prefers sniveling John (Rafe Spall). Then there's Geoffrey (John Light), trying to advance his own interests by plotting with France's venomous King Philip II (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers).
What really matters, however, is the love-hate relationship between Eleanor and Henry, who has had his queen under house arrest since she rebelled against him 10 years ago. Though Henry flaunts his young mistress, Alais (Julia Vysotsky), Eleanor still carries a torch for the king—and she's bitter enough to burn him with it. As you watch Close play this mercurial, indomitable woman, you realize that no other actress could be a worthier inheritor of a Hepburn role. She even has the cheekbones for the job. Stewart can't quite match O'Toole in power, but he's even better at conveying Henry's cunning.
The only serious problem with the film is that after 2½ hours of scheming and shouting, these characters don't seem far from square one.