Blessed with a biting script by playwright Alan Bennett, a veteran of the old satirical revue Beyond the Fringe, Hytner's Madness rollicks through its tragi-comedy of royal humiliation and political maneuvering, winking at the follies of today's royals and anti-royals as it does.
The Madness of King George is much more than a simple study of one man's descent into insanity. With a style that's more tongue-in-cheek than melodramatic, the film is always witty and occasionally satirical. The characterizations are flawless (as well as historically accurate), and the political wrangling of the Tories and Whigs (led by PM Pitt and Charles Fox, respectively) provide a deliciously complex backdrop.
If The Madness of King George, which Bennett adapted for the screen, dilutes some of the play's articulate intensity, it still conveys the drama's essential spirit. King George-the-movie also has the supreme advantage of Nigel Hawthorne, who originated the role of George on stage. His subtly calibrated performance, as he undergoes emotional rages, bouts of dementia and sudden attacks of lucidity, provide the film's most amusing and touching moments.
Acclaimed stage director Nicholas Hytner was obviously determined to make his cinematic debut a memorable one. He doesn't just open up the play; he scatters it across sun-drenched country fields, seemingly all of London, and every nook and cranny of the royal residence. Despite the talents involved, however, the effect is surprisingly static and unexciting, probably because the source material is the kind of talky tour de force that is best carried off on the stage. Even so, Hawthorne's performance is tremendously intelligent and affecting.