|The Madness of King George|
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nicholas Hytner|
|Screenplay by||Alan Bennett|
|Based on||The Madness of George III|
by Alan Bennett
|Edited by||Tariq Anwar|
|Distributed by||The Samuel Goldwyn Company|
|Box office||$15.2 million|
The Madness of King George is a 1994 British biographical historical comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner and adapted by Alan Bennett from his own play, The Madness of George III. It tells the true story of George III of Great Britain's deteriorating mental health, and his equally declining relationship with his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, particularly focusing on the period around the Regency Crisis of 1788–89. Modern medicine has suggested that the King's symptoms were the result of acute intermittent porphyria, although this theory has more recently been vigorously challenged, most notably by a research project based at St George's, University of London, which concluded that George III did actually suffer from mental illness after all.
The Madness of King George won the BAFTA Awards in 1995 for Outstanding British Film and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Nigel Hawthorne, while also being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The movie also won the Best Art Direction and was nominated for additional Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Mirren and Best Adapted Screenplay. Helen Mirren also won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress and Hytner was nominated for the Palme d'Or.
The film depicts the ordeal of King George III whose bout of madness in 1788 touched off the Regency Crisis of 1788, triggering a power struggle between factions of Parliament under the conservative Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and the reform-minded Leader of the Opposition Charles James Fox.
At first, the King's habits appear mildly eccentric, and are purposely ignored for reasons of state. The King is seen as being highly concerned with the wellbeing and productivity of the United Kingdom, and continually exhibits an encyclopedic knowledge of the families of even the most obscure royal appointments. In fact, the King is growing more unsettled, largely over the loss of America. The King's eldest son George, Prince of Wales, aggravates the situation, knowing that he would be named regent in the event the King was found incapacitated. George chafes under his father's repeated criticism, but also hopes for regency to allow him greater freedom to marry his Catholic mistress Mrs. Fitzherbert. George also knows that he has the moral support of Fox, who is eager to put across an agenda unlikely to pass under the current administration, including abolition of the slave trade and friendlier relations with America. Knowing that the King's behavior is exacerbated in public, the Prince arranges for a concert playing the music of Handel. The King reacts as expected, interrupting the musicians, acting inappropriately towards Lady Pembroke, Lady of the Bedchamber, and finally assaulting his son.
The King's madness is treated using the relatively primitive medical practices of the time, which include blistering and purges, led on particularly by the Prince of Wales' personal physician, Dr. Warren. Eventually, Lady Pembroke recommends Dr. Francis Willis, an ex-minister who attempts to cure the insane through new procedures, and who begins his restoration of the King's mental state by enforcing a strict regimen of strapping the King into a waistcoat and restraining him whenever he shows signs of his insanity or otherwise resists recovery.
Meanwhile, the Whig opposition led by Fox confronts Pitt's increasingly unpopular Tory government with a bill that would give the Prince powers of regency. Meanwhile, Baron Thurlow, the Lord Chancellor, discovers that the Prince was secretly and illegally married to his Catholic mistress. Thurlow pays the minister to keep his mouth shut, and himself tears out a record of the marriage from church rolls.
The King soon shows signs of recovery, becoming less eccentric and arrives in Parliament in time to thwart passage of the Regency bill. Restored, the King asserts control over his family, forcing the Prince to "put away" his mistress. With the crisis averted, those who had been closest to the king are summarily dismissed from service, including Dr. Willis. During conversations with Pitt, the King appears more at ease and in control of himself. He is less antagonized by America, but also shows signs that his insanity remains. A final message states that the King likely suffered from porphyria, noting that it is an incurable chronic condition and is hereditary.
In adapting the play to film, the director Nicholas Hytner changed the name from The Madness of George III to The Madness of King George for American audiences, to clarify George III's royalty. A popular explanation developed that the change was made because there was a worry that American audiences would think it was a sequel and not go to see it, assuming they had missed "I" and "II". An interview revealed: "That's not totally untrue," said Hytner, laughing. "But there was also the factor that it was felt necessary to get the word King into the title."
The film received largely positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 93% "Certified Fresh" score based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 7.83/10. The site's consensus states: "Thanks largely to stellar all-around performances from a talented cast, The Madness of King George is a funny, entertaining, and immensely likable adaptation of the eponymous stage production."
Reviewing the film for Variety, Emanuel Levy praised the film highly, writing: "Under Hytner's guidance, the cast, composed of some of the best actors in British cinema, rises to the occasion... Boasting a rich period look, almost every shot is filled with handsome, emotionally charged composition."
John Simon of the National Review wrote- "The Madness of King George III has survived the transfer from stage to screen, and emerges equally enjoyable on film." Simon praised all the leading actors and most of the supporting cast with the exception of Jim Carter's portrayal of Fox which he said lacked charisma.