This film earns a recommendation on the back of its cast, whose performances run a gamut from literally Oscar-winning to merely excellent. That the recommendation is only qualified can be laid at the feet of the writer. While the film's dialogue - especially in the first 90 minutes - is often beautifully written and scathingly witty, the script founders in the last half hour under the weight of three burdens:
- everyone in the film is a terrible, terrible person
- everyone in the film lies so habitually, and puts on pretenses so often, that none of that clever dialogue means very much emotionally because they are all just empty words and you can never believe them
- the fact that nothing really gets achieved by anyone
These three problems are a shame, because I had a ball with the first two acts of this film. Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn are exceptional as lovers-turned-enemies (but possibly still in love despite that) Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. They quarrel, negotiate, bicker and scheme in a whirling carousel of allegiances and plots that also involve their three surviving sons (all of whom want to be king after the aging Henry) and the newly-crowned King Philip of France (whose father lost a lot of territory to Henry, and whose half-sister Alys is betrothed to Henry's son ... while also being Henry's mistress).
To be honest, that paragraph above is as good a summary of the film's actual plot as can be written without going into detail about the individual stratagems, double-bluffs and double-crosses that stud the film like the sprinkles on a chocolate freckle.
Chocolate freckle is not a euphemism
Check this out if you want to see a superb cast absolutely own the screen, or if you're between seasons of Game of Thrones and looking for something with all the scheming and none of the rape (and don't mind that at the end of the day, things end up pretty much as they started).