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Full disclosure: The 1968 O’Toole/Hepburn version of “The Lion in Winter” is one of my all-time favorite films.

Last night my wife and I screened the 2003 remake, starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close as part of a fine ensemble cast. This movie is a very fine production in every way, and to be honest, it is even better than the 1968 version in several ways, but for my money, it still falls a little short of its predecessor.

This version was made-for-TV, and that hurts it right off the bat. The 4:3 ratio is jarring these days, when everything comes across to us widescreen. When such high quality color and filming gets crammed into the restrictive ratio, it’s just confining. You know what you’re missing here.

The 2003 version has an outstanding supporting cast and this is one area in which it surpasses the 1968 version. The three sons and the princess-pawn Alais are far away superior performances, and I truly wish I could pick them up and CGI them into the older movie. Richard is less whiny, Geoffrey is more cunning, John is more believably dunderheaded, and Alais is much less innocent.

Unfortunately, while the Stewart/Close pair at the top of the bill are excellent, they do not meet the gold standard set by O’Toole/Hepburn. Stewart can rage as well as O’Toole, but he lacks chemistry with Close, and while Close was stunning in her own tirades, she just lacked the ease with which Hepburn switched from tumult to tease, from vengeful to loving, layering each emotion one atop the other like a pastry, whereas Close merely shifted gears.

This newer version was filmed at Spiš Castle in Slovakia, and though neither you nor I can probably tell the difference between a 12th century castle and one from the 15th, this one just seemed too “new.” The walls were too clean, and the wooden doors were so fresh and yellow you could practically smell the sap. The dogs were too clean, the lighting too bright, and while most of the costuming was grand and suitable to the Christmas in a stone castle setting, someone decided to put Alais in a slinky polyester velvet sheath with a Viginia-Mayo-esque zipper line up the back. I mean, the gal looked great in blue, but come on!

Thus, I must say that the 2003 version ranks second to the one from 1968. It is good, especially for a television production, but comes up lacking in comparison. Worth watching? Definitely. After all, it had stiff competition.

k

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