The Madness of King George (1994)
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Most often I watch a movie for the whole experience, taking in the plot, characters, acting, scenes and scenery, location, action, intrigue, comedy, tragedy, as a blend of the whole product. All of these weigh in and affect how much I enjoy the film. But half way through this film, I became aware that I was more engrossed in the lead character himself, and the great diversity and excellence of acting on display.
Others have commented that Hawthorne should have won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in 1994. While I like Tom Hanks as an actor, I agree that his role in Forrest Gump wasn't anything exceptional. Certainly not on the order of "Mr. King" in "The Madness of King George." Indeed, Hawthorne must have had to work on his role -- even as a consummate actor, if not for the variations of mood and portrayals, at least for the vast amount of lines he had to speak in the film. By comparison, the Forrest Gump role had a very small amount of lines, and those were far less taxing to an actor. Hanks' was a role that seemed more fun and easygoing than a challenge or demand.
I'm not one to complain about Hollywood (except for the low quality and volume of attempts at humor in the past 20 years), but once in a while I think that many others who make the same observation are right on. Hollywood flops big time in its Oscar choice of an actor, actress or film once in a while. It seems to me that the California-based Academy at times doesn't look as objectively and honestly at films produced outside the U.S. Nothing else produced in 1994 even came close to the outstanding acting by Hawthorne in this first rate film.
We are taught he was a tyrant. Actually he was a conscientious supporter of the British Constitution, but he believed the colonists were disobedient children who should have been punished for their own good. Once it was obvious that they had won on the battlefield, George offered to abdicate. He was talked out of it, and eventually faced up to accepting the papers of the new Minister from the United States, Mr. John Adams. But he never really fully accepted it, and in his last decade the two countries fought a second war (the War of 1812).
George III was a good, but strict family man. He and his wife Charlotte had seven sons and six daughters. But his sons were disappointments (the best one, Frederick, Duke of York, was a second-rate army commander who got involved in a scandal when his mistress, Mrs. Clarke, sold army commissions "in the name of the Duke of York" to undeserving men). The German Georges had a tradition of hatred between the Kings and their sons and heirs. George I was hated by George II because the former had imprisoned his wife (George II's mother) for life for infidelity (see SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS). George II was hated by his son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and kicked the son out of the royal palace. Frederick died prematurely in 1758, so his son George III succeeded in 1760. His son, known as Florizel or "Prinny", had a long standing relationship with Mrs. Fitzherbert, a popular actress who happened to be Catholic. It was actually known by King George III that Prinny had an illegal marriage with Mrs. Fitzherbert. As head of the Church of England, George III resented this act. He also disliked Prinny's support of Whig politicians Charles James Fox and Richard Sheridan (and sometimes Edmund Burke). The King was a good Tory - he never realized that Prinny's politics were a way of annoying him, and Prinny was even more reactionary than the King was. Prinny's gambling and drinking debts also annoyed the King.
George was able to support the wise government (to 1789 anyway) of William Pitt the Younger. So supportive was he, that Pitt would reciprocate. For one day, in 1788, King George got out of his carriage in a forest, walked over to a tree, and had a long conversation with it. The tree, you see, was not a tree, but actually the now dead King Frederick the Great of Prussia. George III was showing signs of dementia. He was the first really certifiable monarch since Henry VI back in the 15th Century. George's son Prinny was ready to back a bill to remove his father and lock him away. Pitt saw Fox ready to replace him, and fought a long delaying action on the Regency bill. It worked, as Dr. Wills managed to bring the dementia under control.
It would only be in 1811, when Pitt was dead for five years (and Fox for four) that a Tory Government passed a Regency bill, but by then Prinny was openly anti-Whig. It was politically allowable for the Percival Ministry to chance Prinny as Regent by then. After George III died he would become George IV and reign until 1830.
This film has followed the tragic illness that incapacity (and eventually) destroyed George III, but only to the conclusion of it's first appearance in 1789. Nigel Hawthorne had performed the role to international acclaim on stage. He repeats it here, showing a thoughtful monarch (witness why he is upset about the errant colonies gaining independence - the valuable natural resources are lost, and he is aware of this). He is puritanical when normal, but with a son like Prinny who could blame him for being sorely disappointed. From the start you find yourself rooting for Hawthorne's monarch, who was not the evil tyrant that Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson painted.
Rupert Everett shows the callousness of the Prince of Wales, who is so selfish that at one point (when safely alone) Pitt and Fox wonder if their American cousins were right about abolishing the monarchy. Ian Holm, as Dr. Wills, is properly a mixture of early pioneer of psychology and tyrant. A wonderful film of how a national crisis was met and overcome peacefully. And timely too. Within weeks of the recovery of George III in 1789 the Bastille fell in Paris.
An absolutely masterful performance from Hawthorne, matched by Ian Holm's doctor. The scene where the two of them meet for the first time is one of my favourites of all I have ever seen & always moves me.
The film never takes itself too seriously, and the cast is a veritable who's who of great British actors that Hollywood largely ignored. If you haven't seen this film, then I'd urge you to do so. Not many of you will fail to be impressed.......
The story remains fairly true to the facts. Late in 1788, George III is taken by a mysterious illness (lately surmised to be porphyria) that strongly resembles the then-popular conception of madness. Chaos ensues, mainly in the desperate efforts of the Government (headed by William Pitt - Julian Wadham) to hush the whole matter up lest the forces of the Whig Opposition (led by Charles James Fox - Jim Carter) use the power vacuum to place the king's eldest son, the Prince of Wales, at the head of a regency sympathetic to their political cause. But Alan Bennett, who originally wrote the script for the theatre, is wise enough to treat the potentially tragic story as essentially comic even while raising the question of the basic insanity behind all pretensions to royalty. ("Some of my lunatics fancy themselves kings," notes the "mad doctor" who undertakes the case. "But he IS the king. Where shall his fancy take refuge?")
The power of the film radiates from neither history nor comedy but from performances, and Nigel Hawthorne, who sharpened his characterization of George III over months of playing it on stage, dominates a roster of top-notch actors. Whether brow-beating his older children with admonitions of "Do not be fat, Sir! Fight it! Fight it!" or, freed from his self-imposed strictures of kingship by illness, slipping the reins and pawing under the stays of Lady Pembroke (Amanda Donahoe), Hawthorne is both maddeningly and appealingly autocratic. Perhaps his Farmer George, England's prime example of husbandry both in his knowledge of horticulture and in his brood of 15 children, is more sympathetic than the historical personage, but in the end that matters little. It's a superbly nuanced performance.
And he's given able support by Helen Mirren as his faithful Queen Charlotte, who's devoted her life to supporting the man who rescued her from the obscurity of a small Germanic kingdom and married her despite her rather spectacular lack of good looks. Mirren's accent is variable; her etching of Charlotte's desperate groping at every straw in order to see her husband cured is not.
The rest of the cast is impeccable as well. Ian Holm is all steely religious conviction turned to medical practice as Dr. Willis, who undertakes to treat the king. Rupert Everett, despite the double handicap of an obviously false stomach and the silliest wig in the film, does a creditable turn as the Prince of Wales, though the script treats Prinny unfairly, mainly for the comic potential of doing so. Ministers of state and Parliamentarians Wadham, Carter and John Wood handle their lines with a panache and wit that would do credit to any authentic 18th-century gentleman. Some of the best lines go to Wood, who as usual gives his unsurpassable style and timing, as when he growls out in church, "I'm praying, goddammit!"
The costumes are both faithful and sumptuous, the cinematography is luminous and the sets, borrowed at low cost from various castles and colleges, are lovingly handled. Of special note is the music of Handel, adapted so cleverly by George Fenton that one would swear the old boy in the knee breeches wrote the score himself for every scene.
Based on the great little play that is historically based, this film went down very well with the awards season since it is very English and well acted. The plot is well written, I'm not sure if it is totally accurate but it is surely based on facts even if it has been coloured for artistic and entertainment reasons. The film embraces both the internal workings of the royal family and the politics of parliament really well; again, it may not be totally true but it is colourful, dissenting and enjoyably. The film is involving but yet still manages to be enjoyable and funny. It is a great story and it is lavishly brought to the big screen in this great production.
The sets and costumes are really good and establish the period and setting of the story very well, but it is the performances that really make it work. Hawthorne is wonderfully cast and delivers a great performance in the lead - both as the cruel monarch or the madman. He is totally believable all the way and never lets his performance become comical or silly even when it is amusing in delivery. Mirren and Donohoe both have less to do but make impacts in their scenes. Everett, Holm, Wadham and Graves support the film to great effect, their performances are colourful, impacting and very enjoyable.
Overall, historical films will quite often be viewed as lifeless, dull and overlong. Here this film goes against all those old clichés and is lively, colourful and enjoyable. The rich sets and costumes add value to some great performances in an engaging story that is very enjoyable.
The film works because of three things. First - always first - is Alan Bennett's screenplay which is succinct and hilariously funny. It is also unbearably sad at choice moments. The actors - the second success story of the project - throw themselves at the pathos as furiously as at the comedy. There's camp and potty humour (literally) juxtaposed with the bare quoting of King Lear and it all works.
Thirdly, there is an attention to the detail which goes beyond costume and design. Hytner has got his cast to play out humans inside 18th century character roles - there's no false reverence or mannered acting.
Nigel Hawthorne is brilliant, playing out a human despite the vastly inflated ego he has to inhabit either side of sanity. All others aspire to this lead, with only Ian Holm (naturally, as his temporarily domineering doctor) matching it. 7/10
How his illness is treated is at the core of this story, when King George III is assigned a doctor (IAN HOLM) to use whatever means are necessary to restore sanity. All the while, court intrigue has everyone in parliament conspiring about appointing a Regent to take over the King's duties. His son, the Prince of Wales (RUPERT EVERETT) is more then willing to replace his father on the throne.
Much of it is played for fine comic effect with many nuances and comic timing in spite of the seriousness of the central character's illness. NIGEL HAWTHORNE recreates his London stage role, playing the part of the mad king to perfection. HELEN MIRREN is highly satisfactory as his wife who wants nothing more than to see him make a complete recovery and RUPERT GRAVES is fine in one of the more low-key roles as one of the King's supportive aids.
As usual in all of these British historical pieces, the settings, costumes, photography, art direction--all are exquisite. The photography is a marvel at suggesting that only candlelight illuminates many of the scenes so that it's like watching a series of fine paintings come to life. Effective use of Handel's music provides solid support throughout.
I'm still bowled over and this will always be one of my top ten films, Hawthorne was never better and this will stand as the best of his legacy of fine performances.
His portrayal of the King is painfully accurate and largely historically correct in a superb script by Alan Bennett. The King was well educated but not particularly bright and Hawthorne brings his preremptory manner out so well. The scene where the King cross examines the Prime Minister about a minor appointment tells you more than you need to know of the sane man in two minutes.
The descent into madness is subtle at first, and might just be eccentricty but then gets worse and the Government are appalled at how they might lose control to the Opposition if there is a regency declared. The machinations become immense as so much hangs on the King's sanity.
Meanwhile treatment goes ahead and in a superb scene Hytner parodies the Coronation service when the King is strapped to a chair and gagged to Handel's 'Zadok the Priest'. In the Coronation service this music has since 1727 been used when the monarch is ceremonially led to St Edward's chair and is enthroned at the precise moment the choir comes in on the music.
However, the King recovers, though he had separate bouts of subsequent illness before totally losing it (though by then to Alzheimers) in 1811, though he was to live until 1820.
Hawthorne was robbed of an Oscar here in my view. Scriptwriter Bennett, one of our best living playwrights, has a small part as an MP.
The tagline at the end of the film asserts that George III was suffering from a particular illness, as evidenced by references to blue urine in the script. In the film, a doctor who has established some reknown as a healer of "mad" people is retained, and forceably takes the King to his compound. There, every time the King acts unseemly, he is bound to a chair and gagged. Eventually, right before the bill is to be passed, he returns to his subjects, and exhibits normal behavior. He begins adding "what-what" to the end of his sentences, as he had done before he became incapacitated. I wonder if that is where it came from for the movie, "Chicken Run?"
A very good movie, done in good style with appropriate humor. Nigel Hawthorne and Rupert Everett are both great in their roles.
This film concerns only a very small portion of his long reign. You see George at first as a capable and decent man, but slowly he becomes tough to manage and irrational. What is very interesting but tough to watch are the ways that the barbaric doctors try to treat his malady. Ultimately, by the end of the film, George seems to have recovered and the audience is left to assume everything was peachy from that point on, but this was NOT the case. His mental condition continued to wax and wane for decades and ultimately, his son George IV became ruler long before he was actually crowned because his father was too incapacitated to rule or even be trusted to care for himself.
A very sad true story that was too briefly explored in this film. However, I must also admit that the acting was very good, the sets lovely and the film fascinating throughout...but incomplete.
An interesting post-script. While George was reasonably rational when the Revolutionary War began, his mental impairment must have affected his reasoning even then. You wonder if maybe the whole situation might have been dealt with much differently if the king had truly been in his right mind. For example, when the Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger wanted to show leniency towards the colonies and reconcile, he was not supported in this by the King. In fact, the King said some rather imprudent things about needing to teach Colonists a lesson. Who knows...and an interesting question for historians.
"The Madness of King George" is a free adaptation, lyrical and honest life of George III, Farmer George, King of Great Britain and Ireland, lover of the noblest arts, the father of fifteen children and husband model. Based on the play by Alan Bennett, The Madness of King George features a stellar cast headed by the magnificent Nigel Hawthorne in the role of the king and the beautiful Helen Mirren as Queen Charlotte, a couple still in love seems to have found the secret definitive marital bliss. Rupert Everett as the sly and wayward Prince of Wales, the beautiful Amanda Donohoe, Rupert Graves and the fabulous and never well enough weighted Ian Holm complete the list of players in a winning film Academy Award for Best Art Direction nominated in three other categories.
A majestic starting a heavenly music of German composer who would nationalize English, an extraordinary assembly and an excellent mood latent in many of the frames of the tape, make "The Madness of King George" a true delight for all the senses.
The artistic direction that took her Oscar that year, is unbeatable, the crowds and the details are beautiful, the soundtrack is a treat for lovers of classical music and the film well worth, has a mood ironic and acid keeps the pace of the film during the whole film.
The story represents power and power struggle and the concept of subservience. Certain situations and constructs of underlings are built to a fine conclusion to resolve the characters. Befitting power and Royals the end conclusions is not "Disney-esque" for all characters.
The sets and characters are fabulously done. There is no sense of egotistical pompousness on the part of the cast and crew (no over the top Johnny Depp-ness here). There is a purpose to the story and the content is more important than the cast and crew.
Well worth watching.
Granted, (now I'm American born and raised and live here so don't think I'm bashing them or anything), many parts of this film might be hard for American audiences to grasp, but if you have the brain cells to sit through it, it's absolutely wonderful.
The shining star, to me, is English-born Helen Mirren. Talk about a robbed Oscar! She portrays the originally-German Queen Charlotte incredibly well. The costuming in the film are what add to not only Mirren's, but the entire film's, historical accuracy. Granted, Mirren's German accent didn't stay exactly on key the entire time, but someone who had lived in England long enough, the accent could have begun to fade, no? Nonetheless, a flawless performance by Mirren.
The other reason this film is so incredible is its star, Nigel Hawthorne. Every scene he portrays the King in is perfect. He makes you feel like you're part of the movie; the interaction between Hawthorne in Mirren is great, as well.
Others who add to the film's quality are Everett (as the Prince of Wales), Donohoe (Lady Pembroke), and Holm (Dr. Willis). A truly great ensemble cast makes this my #1 movie of the 90s.
Overall: Just absolutely incredible! Go watch it! 5/5 Stars.
As we go further, we learn that the King is starting to act bizarre, and this opens the door for internal intrigue, political back-biting and sordid plans. The abridgement of social graces can be found on all sides, some which are truly hilarious.
The Prince of Wales,(salaciously depicted by Rupert Everett) stands to gain the throne, if the effective coup works out. All have their reasons for choosing sides. The wild card in the feud, is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He, like all political folk, wants to stack his cookies on the winning side.
The performances are top-notch and the story is interestingly and intelligently presented. Highly recommended.
This is far from your usual costume drama (something like THE YOUNG VICTORIA), because it's written by and based on a stage play by Alan Bennett, who immediately brings events closer to home. He focuses on characters, personalities and feelings throughout, and isn't so interested in the pomp and splendour that other directors might have favoured. Instead, this is a glorious rebellion put on film, showing with childlike glee the way one man fought back against the social constraints of his era.
Of course, that's not to say that this isn't an authentic-looking film; the costumes are splendid, the locations even more so, and the cast of British thesps are all very good. Nigel Hawthorne, in particular, gives one of his best-remembered performances (he'd played the same role on stage many times, which is why he's so confident in the part).
Of course, Freud's Oedipus complex is hard to completely brush aside considering the actions of the Prince. Though it cannot be a term used without hesitation indeed, the son attempts to usurp the Father, but not with the Mother. Perhaps if you consider the old idea that a monarch is married to the country then the allusion works quite well.
Even if you are not sure on the rights / wrongs of continuing to have a monarchy in the UK I don't feel that the republican agenda is pushed too strongly. For me I guess the fact the plot is concerned with royalty is a by-line for the main theme of relationships.
In madness the King portrays traits of teenage antics, and requires (in the end) a disciplinarian approach to combat his outbursts, and help him grow into the man. It's also an amazing love story with a wife torn between medical advice, and wanting to be beside "Mr. King's" side (which she knows is possibly the best medicine). If you get a chance this summer do rent it out!