I have a problem with despicable people. I have a bias against them, so shoot me. If you suck, I garner no enjoyment from your suckdom, and therefore will not typically read a book that is strictly about lying, conniving, murderous, adulterous, dare I say slimy?, people. Though we know little of their true personalities, I believe those adjectives could easily fit Henry II, his wife Eleanor and their crew, based on documented wars and murders alone.
But I did, enjoy it, that is, and the wonder of it all is that this play is written so well that these crazy people became (holy cheese, I'm gonna say it), endearing.
On top of that, this play reads well on paper. So for anyone whose experience in reading plays hasn't ventured out beyond Shakespeare in high school, this would be a great next go.
For those with some experience reading plays, I dare you not to take up your part in the mirror. The lines are so rich and biting and funny that you have to pause while reading to search for just the perfect inflection. Truly gorgeous.
I've never seen the movie (either the 1968 Peter O'Toole/Katharine Hepburn nor the 2003 Glenn Close rendition), but I don't have too. The characters are already alive for me, thanks to James Goldman's extraordinary talent.