After almost 30 years as king, George III has become increasingly eccentric, and is unpopular with his subjects, causing concern about his fitness to rule.
Nigel Hawthorne gives an inspired, funny and deeply moving performance in the title role of this celebrated, Oscar-winning film of Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III.
The king is married to Charlotte (Helen Mirren), dallying with Lady Pembroke (Amanda Donohoe), and is not only the father of 15 children (Rupert Everett plays the foppish Prince of Wales) but also of a nation and an empire.
The problem is, Farmer George – a nickname the king delights in – also crashes children’s cricket matches, pretends a shrubbery is the Americans and wallops it with his stick, runs around in his pyjamas, and launches himself upon ladies-in-waiting. All of these things are taken to indicate that George III is going mad.
Surgeon Dr Willis (Ian Holm) is brought in to put the king into a straitjacket – providing some of the film’s most disturbing scenes – while the royal quacks examine the royal stool for traces of insanity.
Behind the sardonic jokes and colloquialisms that are Bennett’s trademark is a serious study of 18th-century politics and the monarchy, with a final scene that hints at the House of Windsor as much as that of Hanover.
Immaculately directed by Nicholas Hytner, this is an unmissable treat and the finest vision of a bygone age since Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975). It won the Oscar for best art direction and Bennett’s screenplay was one of three other nominations.
Prince of Wales
Duke of York