The Madness of King George Reviews

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Super Reviewer
October 27, 2012
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.
Bathsheba Monk
Super Reviewer
August 27, 2012
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./
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
December 26, 2011
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.
Super Reviewer
½ January 11, 2009
"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.
Super Reviewer
September 20, 2006
Adapted from a play, the historical authenticity of the this film seems questionable. If the audience is to believe everything they see in this film about King George and his madness, it is simply incredible the way the King of England acted and the resulting consequences. Played by Nigel Hawthorn in his Academy Award nomminated role, the pinnicale of his career, the character and performance are extraordinary. The mood is so murky you don't know wether it is a comedy or tragedy, to laugh or cry. Rupert Everett adds some needed humor and Helen Mirren supplys the forceful tragedy, but Hawthorn steals the show. Overall the film is worth watching for it's astounding story, a lesson in history or hollywood we'll never know.
Mr Awesome
Super Reviewer
½ April 16, 2009
Sometimes the movie is a little obvious, in much the same way other movies from this time period were (in much the same way Robin Williams' "Dead Poet's Society" did things big and obvious), but Nigel Hawthorne delivers an astounding performance as the maligned king. The costumes too, are of considerable note, as far as period pieces go, this one manages to capture the essence of a specific moment in time. Not the best of the period movies, but certainly not the least.
Super Reviewer
½ September 23, 2008
Just rewatched this (having seen it in the theater YEARS ago).

Though the story seems "a bit rushed" at times, this is a really good film. And to spite the subject matter, it is a mostly ammusing film.

Very strong performances by both Hawthorne & Mirren.
Super Reviewer
August 28, 2008
Quite a funny and appropriately odd movie with many of the disturbing "cures" and "theories" surrounding mental illness before the 20th century implemented or discussed.

Some of the subplots are a bit flawed, and don't have much purpose.

Production Design is there in full force of course, and has the high budget cinematography to fit it. The acting is incredible throughout, and Ian Holm's stareoff technique is wholly convincing.

The film held my attention all the way through, which is always a huge accomplishment for a period royalty piece.
Super Reviewer
½ August 2, 2007
Mental Deterioation is a sad thing indeed. It can even affect Royalty.
Super Reviewer
June 18, 2007
Extremely powerful historical drama about the ordeal undergone by King George III when he was suffering from porphyria, a disease so painful it can be mistaken for insanity. Nigel Hawthorne's performance as the ailing monarch is absolutely astonishing and deeply harrowing.
Super Reviewer
January 13, 2012
Nigel Hawthorne is marvellous in this one. I have been disappointed by Hytner in the past but this one thankfully passed muster with flying colours.
Super Reviewer
½ March 21, 2015
Yeah, Bennett's screenplay is fantastic and so is the whole cast (Nigel Hawthorne in particular), but Hytner's direction is what makes the whole thing work, emphasizing the dark, dirty reality of late 18th century England through carefully chosen shots that recall "Barry Lyndon" in the best possible way.
Super Reviewer
December 22, 2008
Ebullient, witty, and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the insanity of politics and the politics of insanity. Graceful and assured and brought to life by Nigel Hawthorne in a performance that carries the entire film.
Super Reviewer
½ January 1, 2008
November 19, 2009
Time in the film seemed a bit strange. It seemed like it might have been years but turns out it had only been six months. Still a nice movie though.
Super Reviewer
January 21, 2009
Very well acted. Interesting story. This takes place right after the successful American Revolution, for which King George blames himself.
November 20, 2008
Though not completely historically accurate and a bit vague in most areas, I did find this movie very entertaining. I guess I just expect more from movies when they deal with historical figures as this one did.
½ September 24, 2007
They say you should never judge a book by it's cover. In this day and age, the same can be said of movies. Well, I really don't give a damn what they say. I judge both books and movies by their covers; like this movie, for instance. I saw an earlier cover for this film which depicted a king of England running down a cavernous hallway wearing nothing but a billowing nightgown and in the presence of a number of Royal House guards. I judged from the cover alone that this movie was well-made and damn funny. Lo and behold . . . . I was right.
April 23, 2007
I was hoping for this movie to be a bit more than this. Although it was mildly interesting all the way through, it was never fascinating, and the climactic turn of the story felt like it wasn't even included. An oddly anticlimactic latter half. However, it still was an interesting movie and I'd probably recommend it. Great performances all around.
January 27, 2007
Riveting performances by Hawthorne and Mirren as tragic royal spouses. During the final reconciliation scene, when she calls him by the tender private nickname of "Mister King", I forgot I was watching a story about the ruler of an Empire and saw instead the stubborn love and hope that dwells at the heart of every ordinary, extraordinary marriage.
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