Aging King George III of England (Sir Nigel Hawthorne) is exhibiting signs of madness, a problem little understood in 1788. As the monarch alternates between bouts of confusion and near-violent outbursts of temper, his hapless doctors attempt the ineffectual cures of the day. Meanwhile, Queen Charlotte (Dame Helen Mirren) and Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (Julian Wadham) attempt to prevent the King's political enemies, led by the Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett), from usurping the throne.Written by
The servant Fortnum states that he is leaving royal service to open a provisioner's shop in Piccadilly ("a step up from emptying piss-pots"), a comical allusion to the Fortnum & Mason's establishment. The film takes place in 1788, 81 years after F&M was founded in 1707. In fact, the company's co-founder's grandson entered royal service in 1761, which led to an expansion of the company's business. See more »
Played by the bell-ringers See more »
The King Who Talked To The Trees - And Claimed They Talked Back
He was our last King, and the one we are raised to hate the memory of. And he was actually a hard working monarch, wrong headed at times, who had the longest reign (for any monarch - until Queen Victoria) in English history. He was George III (reigned 1760 - 1820 - the last nine years incapacitated by insanity and blindness). It was while he was ruling Great Britain that the American Revolution occurred, the French Revolution occurred, Napoleon rose and fell, and the industrial revolution hit Western Europe and the Americas. His is a key reign of modern history.
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.
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