So I’ve been pondering holiday oddities–the unusual customs that families have in celebrating this time of year. I will straight up own mine as strange: I always wrap presents while watching The Lion in Winter. Have you seen it? If not, go now and shimmy up to your Netflix. It’s the ultimate family Christmas movie–if your family happens to be the Plantagenets. Based on James Goldman’s play of the same name, the movie was made the year I was born and features Peter O’Toole as Henry II, Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a few tasty other casting morsels as well in Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Jane Merrow, and Timothy Dalton in his first film role.
It’s set in 1183, after Henry and Eleanor have lost their eldest son, Henry the Young King, and the pair are locking horns to see who will succeed old Henry. At this point in history, Henry had locked Eleanor up for a little casual rebellion–she led her sons in battle against their father–but for this holiday, Henry wants to present a united front to his liege lord and enemy, the king of France. Making things a wee bit more complicated? The king of France’s sister has been a ward of the English royal family for years, ostensibly in preparation for her role as bride to one of Henry II’s sons. The awkward part is that she’s been sleeping with the old king for YEARS.
So, a queen with an ax to grind, a king snapping and snarling as he attempts to hold onto power, a younger king who is playing a very long game, three brooding sons all determined to be king, and a princess caught in the middle. This movie has EVERYTHING. And did I mention Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole? Yes, I did. (And I’m incapable of discussing Eleanor without mentioning that: 1. She’s my favorite historical figure and 2. She’s my 24th-great-grandmother twice over. How does that happen? It’s when royal cousins marry each other. Ick. Anyway, there are MILLIONS of us descended from these two Plantagenets. If you’re keeping score on your own family tree, my lines are through her daughter Eleanor, Queen of Castile, and her son John, King of England–a remarkably poor king, BTW.)
I’m not sure how the tradition of watching this film while wrapping gifts started. I was somewhere in my late teens, I remember that much. Everyone else can keep their ‘nog and their ugly sweaters, for me the holiday season hasn’t truly begun until I’ve had my dose of Eleanor and Henry.