Home > Films > L > The Lion In Winter

Thursday August 16th 2018

The Lion In Winter | 1968

The Lion In Winter filming location: Abbaye de Montmajour, France
The Lion In Winter location: the palace at 'Chinon': Abbaye de Montmajour, France | Photograph: Wikimedia / Speedygonzafr

Anthony Harvey’s filming of James Goldman’s play, about the stormy relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, boasts a crackling script and is rewarded with blistering performances. Apparently it was initially called A Day In The Life Of Henry II. Good title change.

The production was based in Ireland, where interiors were filmed at Ardmore Studios near Dublin but practical locations were found in France and Wales.

In France, the production was centred around Arles, Provence, in the South of France. Those grotesque gargoyles seen behind the opening credits were a fortuitous discovery by Harvey on the driveway of an estate in Arles, gloomily photographed to suggest they’re part of Henry’s castle.

The Lion In Winter filming location: Abbaye de Montmajour, France
The Lion In Winter location: Richard is found jousting: Pembroke Castle, Pembroke, Wales

As the sons of King Henry (Peter O’Toole) are summoned to the 1183 Christmas court at Chinon, Richard (Anthony Hopkins) is discovered jousting at Pembroke Castle, overlooking the town of Pembroke in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. The castle, famous as the birthplace of King Henry VII and thus the Tudor dynasty, is also featured in Terry Gilliam’s pre-Holy Grail Jabberwocky and 2016 'young adult' weepie Me Before You.

The Lion In Winter filming location: Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire, Wales
The Lion In Winter location: Geoffrey supervises an ambush on the beach: Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire, Wales | Photograph: Wikimedia / Jeremy Owen

About ten miles to the west of Pembroke, the coldly Machiavellian Geoffrey (John Castle) is masterminding military manoeuvres on the sweeping beach at Marloes Sands, on the southern coast of the Marloes Peninsula.

Nearly a mile of curving, sandy beach southwest of the village of Marloes, this is the same beach overlooked by Ravenna's castle in 2012’s Snow White And The Huntsman, with Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth.

Although Henry II was king of England, most of the story takes place in France. In the 12th century, France had its own king, but much of the country was under English rule. Henry II (who was himself born in France) lived and held his court in Chinon on the bank of the Vienne River in the Indre-et-Loire department.

In the 13th century, King Philip II of France captured Chinon after months of siege and the castle has remained under French control ever since. Now managed by the Indre-et-Loire Council, Chinon is a museum and tourist attraction.

For the film, the exterior of Henry’s court at ‘Chinon’ is the Abbey of Montmajour, near Arles.

Montmajour Abbey, more formally the Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Montmajour, was a fortified Benedictine monastery built originally in the 10th century on what was once an island north of Arles, in what is now the Bouches-du-Rhône Department.

The painter Vincent van Gogh, who lived in Arles for much of his life frequently painted and drew the Abbey and the surrounding countryside.

Montmajour doesn’t stand on a river so the arrival of Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn) by barge from England was filmed beneath Château de Tarascon on the bank of the River Rhone, about ten miles north of Arles. It was a fortress built in the first half of the 15th century by Louis II and his son Louis III, the princes of Anjou.

It's extremely well preserved and one of the most beautiful medieval castles in France, offering views over the Rhône and the Provence countryside from its immense terrace.

From the 18th century up to 1926, Tarascon was used as a prison (graffiti can still be seen in many of the château's rooms which were used as cells). The Château is now owned by the city of Tarascon.