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The Madness of King George
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Movie Details

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Directed By
Nicholas Hytner

Written By:
Alan Bennett

Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Rupert Everett, Amanda Donohoe, Rupert Graves, Julian Wadham, John Wood, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jim Carter

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The Madness of King George (1994)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
September 27th, 2010

'The Madness of King George' is based on a play by Alan Bennett, and tells the true story of George III's struggle with mental illness, which threatened to end his rule prematurely, with his critics in Parliament suggesting that he be replaced by his son, the Prince of Wales. George III is remembered primarily as the monarch that lost the American colonies, an event that haunted him until his death, and was regarded as an embarrassment, even though he gradually came to accept the notion of American independence. His reign lasted from 1760 to 1820, one of the longest, and most productive, in English history. He is played here, in a hugely entertaining performance, by Nigel Hawthorne, who originated the role on stage, and is joined by a large and energetic cast of British screen vets.

Hawthorne received an Oscar nomination, and really should have won, for his richly nuanced portrayal, which hinges on lots of unpredictable behavior, flawless timing, and rapid-fire delivery. This movie, while an elegantly and sumptiously produced biographical drama, is also billed as a comedy, even though laughs are not clearly evident to non-British audiences. The humor is very subtle, focused more on the occasional sight gag, insult, or wry comment, from one of George's many advisors, ministers, or servants.

Watching his deterioration is fascinating, but perhaps more fascinating is watching as doctors scramble to determine the cause of his apparent malady; they make ludicrously primtive suppositions about his condition, and treat him with measures such as blistering, closely examining his urine and excrement, until Lady Pembroke (Amanda Donohoe) recommends Dr. Willis (Ian Holm), a former minister, who claims to be able to cure insanity through a process of behavior modification.

He is an expert on these matters, or so he claims. Nothing seems to work though, but, George eventually regains his composure, in just enough time to thwart the schemes of the Prince (Rupert Everett), and his main supporter, opposition leader Charles Fox (Jim Carter), who believes in government reform. Fox's rival is William Pitt (Julian Wadham), the king's loyal prime minister, sturggling to keep him in power. And there is George's loving wife, Queen Charlotte (Helen Mirren), who is denied access to her husband during his worst moments.

The battle of wills between George and Willis is immensely enjoyable, and Holm is a perfect fit for the character, harsh, unyielding, but also a tad loopy in his own right. George remains consistently endearing, and even when madness is burning ferociously in his eyes, we can also detect a sadness and vulnerability, getting a real sense of his internal suffering.

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