When it comes to historical fiction, I have some pretty high benchmarks. When it comes to historical characters, there are few I rank so highly as Eleanor of Aquitaine. It perhaps comes as no surprise that The Lion in Winter is one of my favorites. I’ve seen different versions of it on screen over the years, but I’ve not actually seen it performed on stage. This is the next best thing, and I didn’t expect to find it on Audible, though I probably should have. Directed by Rosalind Ayres, and recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles in December of 2001, this version of The Lion in Winter is, in a word, fun. And that’s as it should be. Up on stage, there are no second chances, no cuts or reshoots. In its raw state, at its best, there is the actor performing at the zenith of ability, and there is the audience becoming part of that performance, their energy and attentiveness giving rise to stage magic.
The cast for this version is as follows, in alphabetical order:
Lars Carlson as John
Kathleen Chalfant as Eleanor of Aquitaine
Kevin Daniels as Richard Coeur de Leon
Spencer Garrett as Philip Capet
Laurel Moglen as Alais Capet
Alfred Molina as Henry Plantagenet
Steven Sutcliffe as Geoffrey
I am very familiar with Alfred Molina, being a rock solid character actor who appears in all manner of films that are right up my alley. I’m most familiar with Kathleen Chalfant from her work in House of Cards. Together, these two have excellent chemistry as Henry II and his strong-willed Queen Eleanor. Between the snappy dialogue and the completely natural delivery, it’s difficult not to just lose oneself in the drama. Simply put, it’s historical fiction done right. Definitely the right way to start off a new year.