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The Madness of King George (1994)

TOMATOMETER

Average Rating: 7.8/10
Reviews Counted: 43
Fresh: 40 | Rotten: 3

Critics Consensus: 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.

100%
Average Rating: 8.1/10
Critic Reviews: 11
Fresh: 11 | Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: 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.

AUDIENCE SCORE

Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 8,082

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Movie Info

Based on Alan Bennett's acclaimed play The Madness of George III, The Madness of King George takes a dark-humored look at the mental decline of King George III of England. The film's story begins nearly three decades into George's reign, in 1788, as the unstable king (Nigel Hawthorne, reprising his stage role) begins to show signs of increasing dementia, from violent fits of foul language to bouts of forgetfulness. This weakness seems like the perfect chance to overthrow the unpopular George, … More

Rating:
PG-13 (adult situations/language)
Genre:
Drama , Comedy
Directed By:
Written By:
Alan Bennett
In Theaters:
On DVD:
Jun 5, 2001
Runtime:
MGM

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Critic Reviews for The Madness of King George

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (14) | Fresh (40) | Rotten (3) | DVD (4)

Hytner's version of Bennett's comic-tragic drama of the tormented king who almost lost his mind confirms that power games, family scandals, and personal intrigues have always been integral to the British Crown, an institution both revered and reviled.

Full Review… | August 22, 2006
Variety
Top Critic

In its own shambling, elliptical way it's an entertaining, memorable movie whose 2 1/2 hours go by without strain.

Full Review… | June 18, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Hawthorne is by turn outrageous and pathetic and imperious and poignant and very funny.

Full Review… | April 12, 2002
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

The thrill of Hawthorne's astounding performance is not something you want to miss.

May 12, 2001
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

Without exception, the acting is top-notch.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
ReelViews
Top Critic

The battle of wills between these two strong men [George and Willis] is the centerpiece of the movie, and hugely entertaining.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

It's Hawthorne's engaging performance that makes this drama both fun and moving.

Full Review… | February 12, 2006
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Vastly entertaining, with more bite than you expect from a costume drama.

August 12, 2005
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Flawless acting. Hawthorne was robbed of an Oscar. Sorry, but it's true.

September 21, 2004
Needcoffee.com

So slick, so clever and so incredibly lucid that it neither leads to much in the way of thought, discussion or, unfortunately, repeat viewing.

Full Review… | May 23, 2004
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Respectable actors aside, it's no more than a dryasdust history lesson.

July 10, 2003
eFilmCritic.com

Unusually faithful, magnificently performed.

March 7, 2003
Film Freak Central

Shows how illness can turn one's world upside down and test one's mettle.

Full Review… | August 30, 2002
Spirituality and Practice

Hawthorne is so good it almost hurts to watch.

July 27, 2002
eFilmCritic.com

We emotionally invest in the king, who is not simply a big joke but a vulnerable and somehow loveable fool.

Full Review… | October 9, 2001
Apollo Guide

Thankfully, most of the humor here works, but on the whole, the film falls to mediocrity.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Filmcritic.com

Extremely tedious and pedantic.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Internet Reviews

Nigel Hawthorne garnered all the laurels for his Oscar-nominated performance, but don't overlook Rupert Everett's deliciously camp Regent-in-waiting.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for The Madness of King George

This film has a top-notch cast and a fascinating true story. The costumes and locations are perfect. I felt as though I had traveled back in time to events in the Age of Enlightenment that may not have been quite so enlightened.

cchclaw
Christian C

Super Reviewer

I saw this on DVD. Interesting look at monarchy. It raises questions about WHY monarchy of course. It was produced in 1994 and I think there were a lot of questions around then about WHY the monarchy when you had Prince Charles doing make-work waiting for mum to move aside--still waiting--and Fergie and Diana trying to figure out how to be real women while also being every little girl's fantasy--and Prince Phillip looking stern--and well, it's obviously a defunct institution but the Brits love 'em so who am I--an American, or a Colonist as King George would say--to tell them what to do? They're a colorful lot. This movie also really gets into the power behind the thrown--Pitt, Fox--great depictions and not unlike we're going through in 2012./

Bathsheba Monk
Bathsheba Monk

Super Reviewer

It's been nearly a year since the film-going community was whipped up into a frenzy, falling over themselves to praise The King's Speech. People who had not been to the cinema in years went in their droves, audiences spontaneously applauded up and down the country, and the various members of BAFTA and the Academy cast their votes to further cement the place of Bob and Harvey Weinstein as the kingmakers of awards season.

If all of this sounds like sour grapes, then forgive me. Notwithstanding the Weinsteins' involvement, The King's Speech is a damn fine film, Colin Firth is a very good actor, and Tom Hooper is arguably one of the best British directors working today. However, it is arguable that this film would have not achieved such levels of success were it not for some form of royal precedent - which brings us, very nicely, to The Madness of King George.

Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of Alan Bennett's acclaimed play The Madness of George III may not have achieved the level of Oscar success accorded to The King's Speech. Despite a good showing at the BAFTAs, its only Oscar came for Art Direction. In a year dominated by Forrest Gump, Nigel Hawthorne had to watch Tom Hanks become only the second man after Spencer Tracy to win back-to-back Best Actor awards. But there are a number of key narrative similarities.

Both films revolve around an outsider or commoner coming into royal circles to assist the King (albeit against his will). There is a similar amount of political and philosophical opposition, in both cases coming mainly from Parliament and the royal doctors who seek to discredit said commoner. There is also a background of political struggle or brewing crisis, the solution to which lies in the personal story which forms the emotional foreground.

The similarities between the two are so close at points that you could accuse David Seidler of plagiarising Alan Bennett. Or perhaps the nature of the British royal family is such that these kinds of conflicts occur regularly, and that their history is one of rampant self-plagiarism. Even the most cursory glance at British history would suggest that such an observation is not entirely facetious. The monarchy's peculiar constitutional role provides a fertile ground for stories about the balance of power and the clash between reason and emotion. While filmmakers may have taken this into the realms of Oscar cliché, it is not entirely the fabrication of an idle screenwriter.

The key difference between the two films, is one of tone. The King's Speech may be written by a Briton, directed by a Briton and star the cream of British talent, but as a production it has a transatlantic feel; the involvement of the Weinsteins indicates a desire to appeal to the widest possible audience. But while Bennett's writing has always been populist and accessible, The Madness of King George is more willing to be whimsical and off the beaten track, at least in its penchant for lingual acrobatics.

Both Bennett's play and Hytner's rendering of it are examples of efficient, breezy storytelling. Once the key characters have been established, and the first signs of the King's infirmity revealed, the film really gets on with it, with not a bit of slack or pause for thought throughout its 102 minutes. The very speed at which Hawthorne delivers his speeches, cantering through pages like they were pithy one-liners, makes the whole thing pass very quickly.

Unlike many more low-key films, the whimsy of The Madness of King George generally works to its advantage. The King's English of the 18th century, at least as we perceive it, is more pompous, flowery and bizarre than that of his descendants. While George VI was required to be a public figure in the absence of any genuine powers, George III only greets his public at the beginning and end of the story.

Hawthorne is clearly enjoying himself in the title role, spitting out all the insults with immense relish and grinning his way through the "what-what"s. But this is not an example of a great actor mugging, like the late-period Laurence Olivier. The King's unusual utterances, which border on lunacy or delirium, are a witty contrast to the humour-free William Pitt and the puritanical determination of Dr. Willis. This portrayal serves to further reinforce the theme of the detachment and increasing irrelevance of royalty, both politically and medically.

The Madness of King George is at its strongest when it ties the central relationship to the political and constitutional struggle going on around it. The illness of the King would be a matter of inconvenience at any time, but it becomes a matter of national security in light of other issues facing Britain. There are calls for reform to the political system, led by Pitt's opponent Charles Fox, and as the King grows worse, Pitt's government seems weaker. America's independence and proclamation of republican democracy is a new and unquantifiable threat to the accepted order. And of course, unbeknownst to everyone, the French Revolution is just around the corner.

All of these events are handled with a light touch, as Hytner seeks to explain why the King's position is emblematic of the country as a whole. Both the doctors and the politicians are meddling with the institution of royalty - manipulating it for their profit and promotion, with no consideration for the fate of the King or the people he governs. Dr. Willis may show more desire and appetite to improve the King's manner, aiming, quite literally, to beat him into shape. But in the end he is as bad as the rest, promoting his values through the needless persecution of others.

Likewise, the manoeuvres to install Prince George as Regent are not acts of favouritism; it is a calculated move by the reformists to weaken the monarchy. Replacing a long-serving and popular king with a young philandering upstart would turn the public against the royal family, allowing Fox to seize momentum and reshape the constitution. The King's illness is a symbol of the declining old order, set in motion by people who cannot understand his predicament.

If all of this sounds heavy and Machiavellian, then it shouldn't, because The Madness of King George is joyously funny to watch. It's easy to derive sneering amusement at the absurd levels of propriety involved - for instance, the King's refusal to let anyone sit down in his presence. But there are many moments of genuine comedy which add to the light-hearted atmosphere. The funniest comes during the performance of Handel's 'Water Music', where Hawthorne jumps on stage to play the harpsichord and then beats up his son when the latter tells him to be quiet.

There are a couple of problems with the film. It begins to get repetitive about halfway in, as the various cures are found wanting: there's only so many times you can show a man screaming and being restrained. The ending is also a little unsatisfying, being the one point in the film which feels overly tailored to awards season. Its emphasis on the stability of the royal family may be in keeping with the overall theme, but its stability is of such note that it wanders into caricature, and we feel like nothing has changed.

The Madness of King George is a thoroughly enjoyable film which has survived the poisoned chalice of awards recognition. Nearly two decades on it remains an intelligent and engaging balance of the personal and political. Hawthorne carries the piece with great presence, aided by a simpering Rupert Everett, a fearsome Ian Holm, and Helen Mirren on top form in spite of a wayward accent. It's not perfect, but this and The King's Speech together would make a right royal double bill.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

½

"I'm here, here, but I'm not all there."

Originally titled The Madness of King George III but the "III" was dropped fearing that American audiences would think it a sequel.

Historically fascinating but suffers from hit & miss casting in the supporting roles. Helen Mirren is utterly fantastic, as always. Nigel Hawthorne's performance is Oscar worthy.

flixsterman
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

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