Nigel Hawthorne in The Madness of King George (1994)


(director: Nicholas Hytner; screenwriter: from the play The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett/Alan Bennett; cinematographer: Andrew Dunn; editor: Tariq Anwar; music: George Fenton; cast: Nigel Hawthorne (George III), Helen Mirren (Queen Charlotte), Ian Holm (Willis), Amanda Donohoe (Lady Pembroke), Rupert Graves (Greville), Julian Wadham (Pitt), Rupert Everett (Prince of Wales), Jim Carter (Fox); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Stephen Evans/David Parfitt; MGM Home Entertainment; 1994-UK/USA)
“It’s Hawthorne’s engaging performance that makes this drama both fun and moving.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the play The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett. Nicholas Hytner (directed the stage version) directs in his screen debut this entertaining comic-tragic drama that takes a look at the eccentricities of the tormented King George III of England (1760-1810) in the late 1780s and his increasing mental decline, questioning whether he became as mad as a hatter. Nigel Hawthorne reprises his stage role as the lead (performed both in London and New York) and is superb. Otherwise the film is merely elegant, finely detailed, good at highlighting the political in-fighting and amusing, but is more superficial than it lets on.

It begins in 1788 with the wily and aging King already a ruler for close to thirty years, disparaging the recent loss of the American colonies in the War of Independence and troubled by Parliament’s reducing some of his former powers. By his side is his loyal wife Queen Charlotte (Helen Mirren), who has borne him 15 children. The King’s sanity is questioned over a number of incidents that include spewing in public obscenities at the queen, spells of forgetfulness, trying to forcefully mount his wife’s lady-in-waiting (Amanda Donohoe), displaying increasingly irrational behavior at a public concert, scary mood swings and generally acting nutty (like conversing with a pig). The archaic royal doctors prove to be incompetent as they argue over his stools as the King suffers from digestive pains in the stomach. Prime Minister Pitt (Julian Wadham) says the King’s fine, but his Whig rival Fox (Jim Carter) sides with the King’s alienated son, the Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett), in claiming the King is not fit to rule and the Prince should be made regent. Things look dark when the Prince of Wales denies the Queen access to the King, and the only hopes to overcome this situation lie with some courtiers, the equerry (Rupert Graves), and the eccentric parson-turned-doctor Willis (Ian Holm). The medic, who was brought in as a last resort, through unconventional measures of behavioral discipline (tough love) restores the King’s demeanor and leaves him in a more rational state. It’s eventually thought that the malady was porphyria (a metabolic imbalance that’s an inherited disease), whose symptoms may include mental imbalance.

The film takes the PC stand that before one judges, one should be more tolerant of those who suffer through an illness. Filmed on a mere $8 million budget, it gets the most out of its low-budget. But it’s Hawthorne’s engaging performance that makes this drama both fun and moving.