I found out recently that Showtime is remaking my all-time favourite movie, The Lion in Winter (I find it wildly fun that this and my second-favourite movie, The Princess Bride, were written by brothers, James and William Goldman). I had a lightning series of reactions to this news: first wariness, then excitement, and then a profound irritation.
Let me explain.
Remaking any great film is a slippery business, and although I have a bias towards it, I can imagine objectively that stepping into the medieval slippers of Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole would be, to make a possibly irresponsible understatement, terrifying. The story is rightly dominated by the kaleidoscopic dynamic of Henry and Eleanor’s relationship, and it’s going to take more than a bushel of genius to make any retelling worthwhile.
And why Showtime, of all things? A Man For All Seasons was remade for television, and I’m sure that was fine, but Lion was a medieval epic, a family squabble on a grand scale, with a rococo sideshow of nations and nipples and wonderfully anachronistic Christmas trees. If you’re going to remake a film like this, for God’s sake do it properly, with serious cash and serious backbone.
Moving on to excitement, I’ve remade this film a thousand times in my mind. Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close as Henry and Eleanor are stout choices, and such casting made me forget the words “TV movie” for a little while (I noted with simultaneous annoyance and amusement that a legion of Star Trek fans have now taken an interest in the film, and feel it necessary to replace Glenn with Kate Mulgrew – two great captains together at last, I suppose). Besides which remaking the film would provide me an alternative to reading the play over and over to get my Lion fix. Will they use the same screenplay as the original film, or cull from the play to find the interesting omitted tidbits? Will they dumb down the language, as filmmakers so often feel the need to do these days? What about the original score? The settings? The costumes?
And so I passed into my irritation phase, which is where you’ll find me today. Supposedly the film is supposed to begin production next January, but there’s virtually nothing to be found about it. Stewart doubles up as one of the executive producers, Andrei Konchalovsky is slated to direct (I looked him up and shuddered the moment I saw the credit for Tango & Cash, but a reliable friend assures me that he’s up to the task), and filming is taking place in Hungary, but beyond that, nothing. No release date, no word on the script, and apparently only the two leads have so far been cast. The information gap is too wide for me to process.
By the by, the same people who elected Mulgrew as the next Katharine Hepburn also made such choices as Matt Damon for Richard the Lionheart and Leonardo DiCaprio for John Lackland, which were, I have to say, too horrifying to get even a giggle out of me.
As soon as my knee jerks I’ll offer up some casting choices of my own. Hopefully there will be an update soon. For the time being, I suppose there’s nothing for it but to keep watching the skies.