From a Lord to a Queen:
It only makes sense that The Great Katharine Hepburn would take on the role as the cunning matriarch of England’s most dysfunctional family: The ruling house Angevin of 12th century England. From the start of her over 60-year career, the educated and well-bred New Englander has always specialized in playing flawed characters from high society. From the Tomboy-ish Joe in Little Women to the royal Mary of Scotland, the seat of social and political power always seemed a natural fit for this fiercely independent woman. So, for her to play the historically great Eleanor of Aquitaine seemed as natural a fit as gem stones on the crown.
But for me, well, I also saw something else in her portrayal of the Queen consort – something of an evolution. Yes, while watching The Lion in Winter I couldn’t help but see some parallels to another one of Hepburn’s most celebrated roles: Tracy Lord from The Philadelphia Story. Although America has no true royalty, the wealthy have always occupied a similar position of national revere. They are quite literally in a class of their own, separated from the daily drudgery of the working stiffs and the blue collared. So, in many ways the Lord family in The Philadelphia Story is the contemporary American version of the medieval House of Angevins. Sure, the Lords are maybe a tad less murderous than the Royals, but a similar a web of lies, love, and deceit entangles them both – with Hepburn at the center of it all.
The first similarity between the Lord and the Queen I noticed seems pretty obvious: their deliciously complicated love lives. Yes, certainly no one can call the love lives of Tracy Lord and Eleanor of Aquitaine boring. Not only do both women love equally complicated men, but they are both equally conflicted about it, as well. To me, Eleanor and Henry are the natural evolution of Tracy Lord and C.K Dexter Haven – what happens to a happy couple when the camera stops rolling and the story continues.
In The Lion in Winter it is clear that Eleanor loves Henry, albeit in her own twisted, bitter way. She gladly flaunts her promiscuous reputation to his face, going as far as to ask her beloved husband, “I wonder…do you ever wonder…if I ever slept with your father.” She wants to hurt him, that much is clear and who wouldn’t, when your husband imprisoned you after a failed rebellion. Hey, I told you it was complicated. Things become even more complicated when Eleanor asks her dear Henry and his mistress/possible future daughter-in-law to kiss in front of her. To hurt and be hurt is the type of love the royal couple share, a constant battle of not only their wits, but their hearts as well. To hurt one another is almost the same as to love one another in this twisted game of thrones. Don’t believe me – then just watch the clip below. It follows immediately after the kiss and is one of my personal favorite monologues ever to captured in film.
To me, this is Tracy Lord in 25 years. Once the magic of the second wedding has faded and the flaws of Dexter Haven once again fill the foreground of her life, she will take the most delicious pleasure in hurting him once again. And Haven will give just as good as he gets, he’s simply too proud not to…much like our dear King Henry II.
The other point of similarity I saw in Tracy and Eleanor was their imprisonment. While Eleanor was the less lucky of the two, literally imprisoned between brick and mortar, Tracy faced her own self-made prison – the prison of strength. Yes, if there was one thing that Tracy Lord couldn’t stand, it was the weakness of men. She saw herself as something of a pillar of strength surround by the weak-willed and the liquored-up. It took the entire film for her to realize this and, in truth, I think it’s something so ingrained in her character that if a sequel is made tomorrow (and the way Hollywood is today – maybe it will), Tracy Lord would be just as strong-willed and judgmental as ever…much like Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The only difference is, by this time in her life, Eleanor understands the weakness of man and uses that to her advantage. Rather than cast-away those whose flaws consumes them, she is much happier getting to know them and how they have come to have such great power over man. And once she knows that, she strikes. Yes, if The Philadelphia Story II were to come out today, I could only hope Tracy would be free of her self-made prison of ideals and act like the Queen she clearly was meant to be.
A Big Thank You to Margaret Perry for hosting this wonderful Katharine Hepburn Blogathon. Please don’t forget to check out the other fabulous Blogathon entries via the above link!
–Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub