WCW: Eleanor of Aquitaine

59

I specifically left out the more major queens from my Queens of England series, because I expected to need lots of room to cover them. And Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen of France from 1137-52, then Queen of England from 1154-89) is as major as they come. Well, color me shocked when I put this post together and discovered there has NOT been enough Eleanor on screen!

I was all set to rant about this fact, until I remembered that Starz (producers of The White Princess and The Spanish Princess) is developing a series about Eleanor. Hold me, this is going to be bad! It will be based on decent source material: Alison Weir’s biography Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life and its companion novel Captive Queen” However, we all know what Starz did to Elizabeth of York and Catherine of Aragon, and I’m not too hopeful about where this will go (straight to Snark Week, I’m betting).

Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1122-1204) had such a FASCINATING life, that I can barely capture it here. She was the heiress to the duchy of Aquitaine, in southern France, which made her a hugely important catch in the marriage market. She became duchess in 1137, then three months later married the heir to the French throne, who became King Louis VII of France literally days later! Eleanor famously accompanied her husband on crusade, something considered VERY badass in the period (oh god, if they put her armor I’m going to have a stroke). The couple had two daughters, but Louis was annoyingly pious and the marriage broke down, ending in an eventual annulment. (I always wonder what it was like for her, having to give up her daughters).

Eleanor marries Louis VII, Les Chroniques de Saint-Denis, Chantilly, Bibliothèque du château.

Eleanor marries Louis VII, Les Chroniques de Saint-Denis, Chantilly, Bibliothèque du château.

Eleanor THEN went on to marry the English King Henry II of England in 1152. They had a NUMBER of children, including the future kings Richard I aka Richard the Lionheart and John. As their children grew and started rebelling against their father, Eleanor supported them, causing a rift between her and her husband. Henry ended up imprisoning her for over a decade (something famously depicted in the two versions of The Lion in Winter, which we’ll discuss below). And even after Henry’s death, Eleanor continued to be politically active, traveling to Castile at age 77 in order to bring her granddaughter back to France to marry the French king.

Eleanor of Aquitaine's tomb in the church of Fontevraud Abbey, France, via Wikimedia Commons

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s tomb in the church of Fontevraud Abbey, France, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)

Eleanor (here played by Martita Hunt: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Becket, Anastasia, Nine Days a Queen) sometimes turns up in Robin Hood films, generally as a minor character.

1952 The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men

A wimple for the older Eleanor, while the young’un next to her goes without.

1952 The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men

I have my suspicions about that underbust seam.

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-60)

Jill Esmond takes on the role in two episodes of this TV series about Robin Hood.

1955-60 The Adventures of Robin Hood

She’s looking VERY Evil Queen from Snow White here.

 

Becket (1964)

This film focuses on the relationship between Henry II and his friend/bishop Thomas Becket. Eleanor turns up to be frumpy (per Wikipedia) and have comical fights with Henry. She’s played by Pamela Brown.

1964 Becket

Okay, I gotta say, Brown’s (left) outfits are pretty damn fabulous.

1964 Becket

I mean, this is ALLLL kinds of Sleeping Beauty fabulosity!

 

The Lion in Winter (1968)

The classic, the ultimate, on so so many levels! Katharine Hepburn famously plays Eleanor, on Christmas leave from captivity to visit her family. She spars with Henry (Peter O’Toole) and deals with her sons’ rivalry. The dialogue is sparky and so, so witty. If you haven’t seen it, you literally must!

1968 The Lion in Winter

Even if Hepburn’s wimples are just plain unflattering.

1968 The Lion in Winter

I mean, you can wimple attractively!

 

The Legend of Robin Hood (1975)

Another BBC TV series. Yvonne Mitchell plays Eleanor.

1975 The Legend of Robin Hood

I have no idea if this is actually Eleanor or some other rando, but I’m including it to be a completionist.

 

The Devil’s Crown (1978)

A BBC series about the reigns of Henry II and his sons Richard the Lionheart and John. Eleanor is played by Jane Lapotaire (The CrownDownton AbbeyHe Knew He Was Right, Lady Jane).

1978 The Devil's Crown

She’s looking very Byzantine?

 

Ivanhoe (1997)

Siân Phillips plays Eleanor in this Sir Walter Scott adaptation.

Sian Phillips - Ivanhoe (1997)

This is the only image I can find, sadly! I’m intrigued.

 

The Lion in Winter (2003)

A remake of the 1966 play/1968 film, with Glenn Close as Eleanor (and Patrick Stewart as Henry). It’s gotten generally good reviews, including Close’s performance.

The Lion in Winter (2003)

Okay now THIS looks like real, honest-to-goodness medieval clothing!

The Lion in Winter (2003)

I love all the gold, and THAT is an attractive wimple!

2003 The Lion in Winter

Emote, baby!

The Lion in Winter (2003)

Oooo, she looks haunted!

The Lion in Winter (2003)

I love the turban.

 

Robin Hood (2006-09)

Yet another Robin Hood, this one appearing to have been supremely crappy. Lynda Bellingham (All Creatures Great and Small) turns up in one episode as Eleanor.

2006-09 Robin Hood

I want to ask why you would do that to perfectly nice crushed velvet, but then crushed velvet isn’t perfectly nice.

2006-09 Robin Hood

That’s just HIDEOUS

 

Robin Hood (2010)

Eileen Atkins plays Eleanor in just a few scenes in Yet Another Robin Hood.

2010 Robin Hood

Another outfit that looks like real clothing!

2010 Robin Hood

I love the variations for the hood. An actual, proper hood!

 

Glow & Darkness (forthcoming, unfortunately)

I almost forgot! Every Frock Flicks reader’s nightmare, Jane Seymour as possibly the world’s shittiest Eleanor of Aquitaine in this Spanish series about the crusades!

Glow & Darkness

Let’s let Snark Week do the commentary here.

GLow & Darkness

I CANNOT GET OVER THIS MAKEUP.

 

Who’s your favorite Eleanor of Aquitaine, and how scared are you of Starz’ forthcoming series?

59 Responses

  1. Gill

    No-one can beat Katherine Hepburn as far as I am concerned. Such a wonderful film, almost perfectly cast. (Hopkins! Dalton!) Such amazing chemistry.

    Hepburn insisted on her throat being covered in all her costumes, so I imagine the ugly wimples with head hair showing is a compromise. They could have done better. But I still love the film – and the locations (actually in Provence, not far from Avignon) are fabulous.

    Reply
  2. MoHub

    Jill Esmond. She gets some lovely lines advising Marian, and does a bit of cougaring after Robin. Also, Esmond was a niece of Decima Moore, the original Casilda in The Gondoliers.

    Reply
  3. Katie Carroll

    I love Eleanor of Aquitaine, after whom my daughter is named. The costumes from Becket, while lovely, are 150 years incorrect. The only ones that look decent for the late 12th century are from both versions of “Lion in Winter” and “Robin Hood.”

    Reply
    • Susan Pola Staples

      For me it’s Kate and Glenn. I prefer the costumes in Glenn’s but no-one can do it better than Kate. Although I wonder what Dames Judi and Helen would do with the older Eleanor from the years 1189 to her death? Lately in historical fiction, it’s been common to portray her as a redhead or at least a strawberry blonde. Wonder what Netflix will go with?

      Reply
      • M.E. Lawrence

        Wow, Helen could do it. Years ago, I was reading a novel about Eleanor, Henry and all those warring kids (by Sharon Kay Penman–not bad), and thought of Catherine Zeta Jones. Penman saw Eleanor as ambitious, smart and quite pragmatic, a woman who had learned to balance emotions and intellect.

        Reply
    • Fran in NYC

      I love that film but the costumes for the ladies pull me right out of the film! It’s such a needle scratch to see!

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. I’ve seen this film so many times that I can quote the dialogue by heart. I have not seen the remake, but I did see a production in the West End starring Joanna Lumley, Robert Lindsay, and James Norton about ten years ago that was okay but no one can beat the chemistry between Hepburn and Peter O’Toole.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      I can’t quite picture Joanna Lumley as E of A, although I like her very much, and imagine she could really detonate all those anachronistic wisecracks. Siân Phillips and Eileen Atkins are great choices. (I prefer to forget Eleanor’s depiction in “Becket.”)

      Reply
  5. Will B

    I’ve been a fan of Eleanor ever since my mum gave me E.L.Konigsburg’s ‘A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver’ to read when I was about 12 or 13. She’s sadly underrepresented on the screen, so take the literary version and enjoy!

    Reply
    • Roxana

      I love Konigsberg’s book too but my intro to Eleanor was Nora Lofts’ novel.
      IMO opinion the Hepburn/O’Toole Lion in Winter cannot be bettered and should not have been remade – with all respect to Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart.

      Reply
    • Kathy

      I was about to comment that was my favorite depiction of her that I’ve seen(I might change my mind after Lion in the Winter, haven’t seen it yet.)! That is my favorite book ever. If we can’t have a biographical depiction of her, I would love to see a film based off that book.

      Reply
  6. Kaite Fink

    Both versions of Lion are fabulous and I can’t choose a favorite. But I can pick a series of books I would rather see used than Weir’s. Elizabeth Chadwick wrote a wonderful trilogy about Eleanor that would be amazing if done well. I don’t think I trust Starz to get it right. But we will always have Snark Week, so that’s a conciliation prize?

    Reply
    • Tanya Stewart

      Elizabeth Chadwick’s trilogy was a great read and would make a wonderful series, provided the script, actors, and costuming were both sympathetic and historically accurate—no attempts to make it “relatable” to audiences that haven’t cracked a book open since high school!

      Reply
    • Kathy

      In my earlier comment about “A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver” I completely forgot about Chadwick’s trilogy. This would also make a good adaption.

      Reply
  7. opusanglicanum

    I think the 2nd 1952 one with the dodgy bustline is an attempt to show a particular style of bliaut (If you ahve a copy of hill and bucknellit’s shown for around 1100)

    Reply
  8. Brandy Loutherback

    I’m pretty worried Starz will fuck it up! Let us pray PFG won’t get her claws on Eleanor! Knock on wood, please!

    Reply
    • Robin TMP

      Well, it’s based on an Alison Weir book and NOT one by PFG, so already they’ve got a good start on being better; as for how it turns out in the end, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

      As for my favorite Eleanor, let’s see…I haven’t seen the Close/Stewart version yet, although I suspect it’s very good, so right now I’ll have to go with Kate the Great. (It turns out that on my mom’s side of the family, we’re directly descended from Eleanor and Henry, and I admit to getting a big kick out of the fact that Kate won her third Oscar playing my 26th great-grandmother!)

      Reply
      • Aleko

        I’m not sure of the number of greats, but she’s my ancestress too. Not that that’s a very big boast here in England, since it has been calculated mathematically that at least 99.9% of people of native English ancestry are descended by at leas one bloodline from Edward III alone – and he’s only one of her great-great-great-grandchildren.

        Reply
    • Coco

      Trying to find info about it, and there doesn’t seem to be anything since the initial announcement in November, 2020. No title, no casting, no credit on Alison Weir’s IMDb page. So it might not happen.

      Reply
  9. Aleko

    Surely that second Eileen Atkinson’ headdress is just another circular veil with the front edge turned back?

    I love Atkins as an actress, but Ridley & Co’s decision to portray Eleanor as a commonsensical, boot-faced, aggressively English matron is bizarre. It’s impossible to imagine wandering scholars singing this about Atkins’ Eleanor:

    “If all the world were mine,
    From the sea unto the Rhine,
    I’d give it all
    If so be the Queen of England
    Lay in my arms.”

    Reply
  10. Saraquill

    I haven’t seen any of these sadly. I’ll look up the biographies mentioned here for sure.

    Reply
  11. Kendra Preston Leonard

    Katherine Hepburn and co. absolutely blow Close & Stewart out of the water. The film with the latter two makes me cringe, and it does–in the opening moments–put Eleanor in armor, riding into battle with her sons against Henry. It’s awful.

    Reply
  12. Rowen G.

    I adore Katherine Hepburn, but Sian Phillips gets far, far too little screen time in that version of Ivanhoe. She has only about six minutes, in which — in wonderfully measured tones — she thoroughly lambasts both Richard and John, at the end of which she tells them “embrace, and forgive each other” and when they look dubious, snaps out, “Now! Or by the fires of hell I’ll see the pair of you beneath the ground and put the king of Egypt in Westminster!” (They comply.)

    Reply
    • Karena333

      To be fair, Scott did not have Eleanor in Ivanhoe at all, so this scene is a creatve bonus. Actually, this version has quite a few creative additions that work well (I’m looking at you, Rebecca and Brian.)

      Reply
      • Roxana

        “Henry, I have a confession to make.”
        Henry looks interested.
        “I don’t much like our children.”

        Reply
    • JLouise

      There are so many wonderful lines in that film, and the great Kate delivers them to perfection. One of my favorites:

      Henry II: The day those stout hearts band together is the day that pigs get wings.

      Eleanor of Aquitaine: There’ll be pork in the treetops come morning.

      Reply
  13. denlillesyendemus

    As I posted in the snark week post, even if all the horrible that was brought forth with “Glow and Darkness” is pretty much explained with the fact that the creator of the series is the same man behind “Queens: The Virgin and the Martyr”, that same man is undergoing a judicial process because he has been accused of fraud, so the production of the series has been halted. (BLESS)
    Still, for a good chuckle, google: “Resplandor y Tinieblas Escenas inéditas” to see a scene that leaked featuring Jane Seymour as a young!Eleanor. (it does show a lot of snarky promise)
    This being said, I am also very worried about the Starz show. Because Starz.
    And, I have to agree with everyone saying Katherine Hepburn as their favourite Eleanor, though I also have to say that the memories I have of Jean Lapotaire in The Devil’s Crown are good, if a bit fuzzy (probably it did not help that the copy I had was not good itself.)

    Reply
    • Charity

      OMG. I googled and … what did I just watch!? Are they sitting on modern couches, on a modern mowed lawn, with modern pavement within a stone’s throw of the camera, wearing bad jewels, reciting bad dialogue, and … did I make a mistake somewhere and stumble into an episode of Reign?! xD

      Reply
    • Roxana

      I love the fact that her effigy is reading a book. Eleanor was known for two things; being badass and being extremely cultured.

      Reply
  14. India

    That’s Martita Hunt again sitting next to Pamela Brown’s Eleanor (and in an equally amazing headdress).

    Reply
  15. Eileen

    Hepburn. Definitely Hepburn.

    I will add that the older I get, the more I appreciate the wimple. Can we bring it back as a fashion option?

    Reply
  16. SarahV

    I had no idea that Sian Phillips logged in her time as Eleanor!!!! I can only imagine how awesome and mighty, although Katherine Hepburn will always be the gold standard.

    I also loved Eileen Atkins in that movie, and I love how they have her in a tabard with the Plantagenet lions, since she was basically the super-regent over “Regent” Prince John (an unnoticed Oscar Isaac, by the way), while Richard the Lionheart was fucking around in the Levant.

    If you want a fun book series in which Queen Eleanor plays a prominent role, try the alt-historical “The Enchanter General” series by the late, great Dave Duncan.

    Reply
    • SarahV

      although my curiosity got the better of me and I just wasted an hour googling Plantagenet heraldry and it seems that the lion was the sigil of Aquitaine, and was adopted by the later Plantagenet kings (her offspring)

      Reply
      • Roxana

        Geoffrey Plantagenet was given a shield with nine lions rampant when knighted by Henry I. Interestingly that same shield was used by his grandson William Longspree, one of Henry II’s bastards. The lion passant gaurdant used on the English shield does seem to derive from the arms of Aquitaine. This may indicate the value Richard I and John put on the Aquitaine, but the rules of heraldry were far from set back then.

        Reply
  17. Kathryn MacLennan

    I don’t understand why filmmakers alter medieval styles so much when accurate medieval clothing is so legitimately cool looking.

    Reply
  18. Charity

    My brother came to me one day after spending weeks on Ancestry.com, and informed me dourly that we are descended — on the “wrong side of the sheets” I might add — from Prince John of Robin Hood fame. Naturally, what sprang to my mind first was the Disney movie with the thumb-sucking lion, but then I paused and said, “Wait just a damn minute… I reject being descended from Prince John, but I sure as hell don’t mind being descended from Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Boss-Ass Bitch to conquer all Boss-Ass Bitches!” My joy still stands.

    As for movie interpretations — I tried with The Lion in Winter. I truly did. But after that early scene where they spent like five years of my life waiting on shore for a barge to row itself slooooooooowy closer, I noped out of there. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (I will try it again at some point, when I am feeling less rushed.) I do love her depiction in Crowe’s Robin Hood. She rolls her eyes with the best of them, and looks properly long-suffering at being stuck with her ludicrous son.

    Reply
  19. Giselle

    Oh dear me… I live for the day Eleanor of Aquitaine gets a proper biographical series! She was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right and held more land than the King of France himself; she rode on Crusade and made a better show of it than her husband (the King of France no less!); was accused of having an affair with her uncle who ruled Antioch at the time; divorced King Louis of France and made her second husband, Henry Plantagenet King of England; outlived both husbands and most of her children, and lived to park her granddaughter on the French throne she once gave up.

    Reply
  20. Tracey

    “We all have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians.” Katherine Hepburn all the way. The Lion in Winter is on of my top five. Maybe even number one.

    Reply
  21. Muriel

    If some readers here understand French I really recommend checking this on Youtube (this is from a parodies webseries but where the historical content underneath the humourous tone is actually pretty well researched). It covers quite well Alienor’s life and why she was such a powerhouse political figure (Aquitaine in her time was 1/4 of contemporary France and one of the richest regions of the coutry)

    Reply
  22. Roxana

    Remember the scene between Eleanor and Alys? Alys says angrily that what she wants for Christmas is to see Eleanor suffer. “Just for you.” Eleanor replies. And Alys bursts into tears, sobbing in Eleanor’s arms and calling her ‘Maman’. Remember Eleanor raised Alys from age eight. She was probably the only mother Alys could remember.
    Historically the story Alys was Henry’s mistress is based on contemporary gossip. It’s perfectly possible of course but gossip is not always accurate. Accurate or not is wrecked Alys’s reputation, especially after she was rejected by both Richard and John.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      To continue; Alys was returned to her brother Philip Augustus of France, who married her, at age 35, to the 16 year old Count of Ponthieu. They had two daughters and a stillborn son and Alys died in 1220 aged 60, a long life by medieval standards.
      Am I the only one who thinks her story has cinematic possibilities?

      Reply
  23. Steven Flanagan

    The screencap from The Legend of Robin Hood (1975) shows Diane Keen as Maid Marion (and John Abineri as her father).

    Reply
  24. Roxana

    Eleanor’s maternal grandmother was even.more colorful. Called Dangereuse for her wild and seductive personality she left her husband the viscount de Challeraute for Eleanor’s paternal grandfather William lX. William’s outraged wife retired to the abbey of Fontevraud. The reaction of Dangereuse’s husband is not mentioned. Possibly it was relief. The lovers proceeded to marry their children to each other: Dangereuse’s daughter, Aenor, to William’s heir the future William X. The result was Eleanor, her sister Petronilla, and a short lived son.
    Dangereuse may have been the mother of the dashing Raymond of Antioch, who isn’t included on lists of William IX’s legitimate children.
    Dangereuse disappears from the chronicles after William IX’s death in 1127. There are no reports of her activities but no record of any retaliation against her. Most likely Dangereuse lived quietly and enjoyed her grandchildren. She died in 1151, aged 72.

    Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.