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Last evening I sat down to watch a 2003 Showtime remake of The Lion In Winter starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close in the lead roles previously owned by Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn.

I was intrigued by the idea of Stewart and Close having a whack at this play, both of them being outstanding actors in their own right.  And I was hoping that if they were going to mount such a production, it might prove to be something different from its famous predecessor. (How’s that for broadmindedness, my fellow port-swillers?)

Alas, no such luck.  In fact, the screenplay for this film was exactly the same one used previously.  Many of the shots were virtually identical, not just in their staging but in the action and even the actors’ inflection.   About the only difference was that the sets were generally much lighter and less gritty, giving the whole thing a kind of Medieval Hallmark feel.  (It floated into my mind that this was approximately the same treatment that Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman gave to the 19th Century American frontier.  I half expected the thing to be interrupted by a commercial for feminine hygene products.)

As for the characters, there were times when I could have sworn Close was mimicking Hepburn, right down to the wobbly head and voice.  Only once in a very great while did she seem to find her own style, to be her own Eleanor.  Stewart, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to create his own Henry, but the fact of the matter is that he’s just too slick for the part and doesn’t have enough, well, animal in him.  Striding about in his long, gray hair and beard, he looked more like the Chair of an English Department getting ready to black-ball a tenure application than a 12th Century Norman king deciding his succession.  One couldn’t help imagining that O’Toole’s Henry would have had Stewart’s for breakfast.

As for the supporting cast, none of whom I’d ever heard, there’s not much to say.  Richard looked like a switch-hitter from the get-go.  Geoffrey looked like a young, impossibly clean, Pierce Brosnan and didn’t have the proper oily politico quality.  John was more bumpkin than lout this time around.  Phillip was Gollum with long hair.

Perhaps because of the lack of real personality in the cast, I also found myself becoming somewhat impatient with the play itself:  All the ins and outs, the intrigues, double-crosses and snappy dialogue begin to seem to me to be…..too impressed with its own cleverness.  (I get that same feeling whenever I see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.)  It’s good stuff the first time you see it, especially when served up by the best of the best, but it don’t seem to me to wear very well.

Indeed, I got thinking about writing my own play, to consist of nothing but two characters playing chess while at the same time fighting their own geopolitical battle with words: each move of one character will be blocked by a move of the other made in anticipation of the move the first character was going to make.  The process will keep spiraling backwards, as it were, to some particularly silly conclusion (or beginning?) which I have not yet mapped out.

Bet I could get a few good laughs out of it.

Anyhoo, on the whole, it seems to me that if you’re going to watch The Lion In Winter,  you’ll be much better off sticking with the original.

So yesterday the rector at RFEC, in his sermon, stated that it is a modern mistake to read the Decalogue in a legalistic sense, that is as a code prohibiting specific forms of behavior.  He also claimed that the Bible does not mention any actual punishment associated with breaking the Commandments.  He did not really elaborate on either point and this all seemed to be something of an aside at the beginning, because the rest of the sermon -so far as I could follow it – just tailed off into the warm fuzzies.

Later on at the adult forum the guest speaker, who is associated with a local Methodist seminary, mentioned her belief stated as categorical fact that Satan himself will be redeemed at the end, along with all souls.

I was pondering these assertions later as I listened to Father McA’s homily as Mass.  His theme was the omnipresence of the devil and the need for ceaseless vigilance against his attacks, deceptions and seductions. It occured to me as I listened:  What better way to wage a war than to convince your enemy that you aren’t waging one?  Seems to me that some folk have swallowed that propaganda pretty whole.

Father McA also pointed out that someone or other had remarked perhaps the most frightening words in the entire Bible are those of Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus by the devil:

5And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

6And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.

7If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.

(Luke 4:5-7. Emphasis mine and Father’s.)

This resonated with me because I happened to be rereading that part of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in which he likens the world to enemy-occupied territory:  Jesus’ first appearance was something like a commando raid, its main function to set up a resistance movement in anticipation of the main invasion to come.

The good news is that at dinner last evening at the Port-swiller residence when I mentioned all this and gave it as my opinion that we ought to avoid what one might call Vichy Christianity and instead endevour to keep our guard up and fight the good fight, I was not met with rolling eyes and snipes about corruption in HMC, but felt I was actually being listened to.   So I suppose that is something.


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February 2010