Movie Review – The Madness of King George (1994)

Nigel Hawthorne plays George III when he falls victim to an illness and is subjected to very harsh treatment to cure him of his madness. It’s listed as a comedy but to me it felt more like a tragedy (although I suppose the lines between the two are very close together). It explores themes of power and the state of self, and it was quite an interesting watch. 

I really enjoyed Hawthorne’s performance. He’s not an actor that I’m overly familiar with but I thought he gave a nuanced portrayal of the king. The range of emotions he went through was impressive and there was a real sense of drama as he descended into madness. The background machinations provided some tension and intrigue as well and I enjoyed the subplots of all the supporting characters. I liked how his staff went from obeying him without question to suddenly carting him off and and restraining him. I also liked seeing how the King went from being authoritative and dismissive to slowly realizing that there was something wrong with him, and how he had to relinquish a little bit of his power in order to recover. There were a few touching scenes with his wife (played by Helen Mirren), I particularly liked the one on the roof. 

Speaking of Helen Mirren, I do think she was a little wasted in this role. She didn’t have much to do other than play a weeping wife and I didn’t think the role was worthy of her talents. The other actors were fine though, especially Ian Holm who was quite chilling as the man who tamed the King. Nigel Hawthorne was really the star though, it says something that even though the King wasn’t ever shown to be a warm or nice person I was still rooting for him to recover and reclaim his throne. 

The nature of power is an interesting concept to explore and here the King was forced to give his up for the sake of his own sanity. I thought it was very brave of him to do so, and it was interesting to watch him separate the man from the King. The transformation was remarkable as he went from the disciplined, loud, haughty King to a meek and humble man, and some of the treatments he had to endure were horrific. I enjoyed this one a lot but I wouldn’t necessarily class it as an outright comedy.

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