If history's strongest constant is the struggle for power, this movie is another reminder of the fragile nature of power.
"The Madness of King George" begins with a lighthearted visit to the chambers of King George III and, fueled by the infinite capacity of the British to find humor in sorrow, moves in and out of gravity and levity just as the king passes in and out of lunacy.
The king who lost the colonies permanently and his mind periodically will most likely be remembered from now on as Nigel Hawthorne; his King George jumps from history as a titan of regal nonconformity. Conscientious monarch and devoted husband, he is also a man who, lucid or mad, grabs any excuse to get himself outdoors. The fact that most of this may be historically inaccurate is absolutely immaterial. Beyond the facts and facades, isn't everything conjecture anyway?
This, then, is a rousingly entertaining piece of conjecture. The King and Mrs. King (Helen Mirren), as he fondly calls her, are dealing with whatever demons are causing the deranged outbursts that have ignited greed and ambition in his court. Those who attend him smell his downfall.
His son, the foppish Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett), conspires to succeed him while Prime Minister Pitt knows the ascension of the Prince will destroy his own power. As the King's eccentricities balloon into incapacitating illness, feverish attention is showered on the doctors who can make or break the plans of his enemies.
With overwhelming arrogance, the doctors, when they finally pounce, brutalize the king until he is a mindless, diapered wreck of a man. The physical details of their "care" are set forth in gruesome detail, all the better to show us the dimensions of their abysmal ignorance.
If history's strongest constant is the struggle for power, this movie is another reminder of the fragile nature of power. As king, George III is an impediment to those who want to take it from him. When he becomes helpless, he is moved from throne to torture table. The doctors and schemers flow into the void with ugly predictability. Always, they are waiting.
And yet the human comedy persists. Director Nicholas Hytner and playwright Alan Bennett have linked the centuries with wit that throws us into the present. As we watch the idiotic Prince of Wales, he becomes the Prince Charles of the Camilla tapes: "It takes character," Charles' forbear says, "to withstand the rigors of indolence." The palace infighting becomes the aftermath of the Reagan shooting: As the doctors pontificate, they morph into today's inflated medical egos. "Let them see we're happy; it's why we're here," George admonishes his family, in perfect prescience of what we Americans demand of our leaders. Has anything changed?
Teamed with a consistently grand supporting cast, the peerless Nigel Hawthorne is riveting. Look forward to a sublime moment when the King, on an expansive English lawn, calls on his Lord Chancellor to read Cordelia to his Lear. Madness melts to clarity. The fragile line between the two has the ring of uncomfortable universal truth.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 493
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn
Rating: NR 1h47m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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