The Madness of King George

At the heart of King George’s madness was a power struggle. Defined by controversy and a case of economic castration, The Madness of King George is not just a great vehicle for Nigel Hawthorne’s eponymous performance but an exploration of regal insanity. King George III’s descent into madness is marked by a handful of odd eccentricities that modern medicine would pick up on sooner than those found in the 18th century. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Nicolas Hytner adapts this Alan Bennett stage production with the calming efficiency founded in this period of British filmmaking. It seemed that the stuffy old stylings of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita had a profound effect on Bennett, whose work is thematically different but equally as proud of its roots.  

Those roots are integral and intertwined with Hawthorne’s stunning performance. It is the spiral this mad king created that has such a fundamental impact on the characters that surround and support the leading man. Jim Carter and Julian Wadham are integral to the supporting storylines. As integral as they may be, they play Charles James Fox and William Pitt respectively well. A to and fro between the Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister is a delicately worked storyline that plays into the madness at the heart of it all. But Ian Holm is the show-stopping spotlight thief. His work in the final act is the stuff of genius. Francis Willis is sparked to life, combatting the manic-driven George.  

At the root of it all is Hawthorne, though. His Oscar-nominated performance is just another example of the Academy getting it wrong. This has winner etched into it. This is the performance of a man at the peak of his powers, and it would crescendo soon after. Hawthorne embodies the mad king with such enthusiasm, dedication and emotive knowledge of who this king was and how he was noted to have acted out in his fits of mania. With such a stunning ensemble to support that fall from sanity, The Madness of King George has the style and gusto of the finest period pieces around. Helen Mirren and Rupert Graves’ presence help tremendously, capturing the cruelty of aristocracy and the seceding mind at the heart of it all.  

He has remembered, he says: “how to seem.” That genuine move from madness to miserable indifference is played with by Hawthorne so intricately well. He is neither content nor complacent in the mania that surrounds him, but he is not an active participant in it either. The Madness of King George toys with this well. It is no wonder the line of the throne has been relegated to tourist traps and social events, for the stress Hawthorne describes for the one man running the country is too hot to handle. He is far too ravaged by madness and hated by opposition to make much change. The Madness of King George presents an exceptional iconography and relies on it often. The golden carriages, the red carpets and the formalities of royalty as they “what what” their way through a fine script and some interesting anecdotes on the mania of internal family affairs. 

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