Nicholas Hytner, the Tony Award-winning director who dazzled Broadway with his production of Miss Saigon and brilliant revival of Carousel, makes a stunning screen directorial debut in The Madness of King George, Alan Bennett’s comic-tragic drama of the tormented king who almost lost his mind. The effective strategy of Bennett, who adapted his 1991 play for the screen, is to demythologize the members of the royal family without trivializing their lives.
The tale begins in 1788, with King George III (Nigel Hawthorne) a vibrant, robust leader, almost 30 years into his reign. He’s happily married to his devoted Queen Charlotte (Helen Mirren), who has borne him 15 children, including the Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett) and the Duke of York (Julian Rhind-Tutt).
The king’s veneer of respectability is shattered in a series of brief scenes that disclose his ‘darker side,’ as he spews obscenities at the queen or sexually assaults her attractive Mistress of the Robes, Lady Pembroke (Amanda Donohoe). Through his increasingly irrational conduct, it soon becomes evident that the king is ill, though the specific nature of his ailment is unclear.
With the exception of a few excessively theatrical scenes, Bennett’s script doesn’t betray its stage origins. Helmer Hytner moves the action smoothly from tightly controlled indoor settings to gloriously staged outdoor scenes, such as one showing the hyperactive king rampaging through the fields of Windsor at sunrise with his hysterical staff behind him. Reprising the role he created at the National Theatre, Hawthorne brings to his complex part a strong screen presence, light self-mockery and pathos that set divergent moods throughout the film.
1994: Best Art Direction.
Nominations: Best Actor (Nigel Hawthorne), Supp. Actress (Helen Mirren), Adapted Screenplay