The Madness of King George

By David Sturm, Copyright 1996


The word "prestige" has the same effect on me that the word "culture" had on Hermann Goering: I reach for my revolver.

It was cocked and aimed at "The Madness of King George," an Anglophiliac drama with major prestige credentials, now out on video. The warning signs were there: costumes, history, royalty, politics. But,then, amid the pageantry, a quack doctor appeared with the king's chamber pot and exclaimed, "Good news! A fetid and stinking stool!"

I eased down the hammer.

The movie is set when King George III has already lost the colonies to the American rebels, an event embarrassing to the British throne but inspiring to certain Englishmen.

"God rot all royals. Give us the wisdom of America," says one plotter.

It is a time of malaise and it doesn't help that the king may be 'round the bend. George III, played as a decent sort by Nigel Hawthorne, suffers from "persistent delirium" that the court physicians are at a loss to alleviate.

"I'm here, but I'm not all there," sighs the king in a lucid moment.

The cures he endures from his gaggle of wild-haired doctors include "purgatives" and "blistering" which are about as bad as they sound.

Enter Ian Holm, a no-nonsense doctor who deduces correctly that a disciplinarian approach might work. He is given unprecedented authority to "restrain" the king, going so far as to bind and gag him during tantrums.

The movie tries to build some suspense over a possible palace coup by the scheming Prince of Wales. But the stakes just don't seem that high. One surmises it wouldn't make much difference at this time who sat on the throne.

In fact, the movie's amusing ending suggests that George III was astute enough to grasp that British royalty's function by then had become symbolic--perhaps even decorative.

P.S.--"The Madness of King George" was titled "The Madness of George III" in England. The title was changed for fear American audiences would call it "The Madness of George, Part Three."


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