February 17, 1995 in Seven

Actor Hawthorne Ascends Into `Madness’ Royally

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Nigel Hawthorne has one of those faces that seems familiar, even if you can’t quite place it.

You shouldn’t have any trouble in that regard after seeing “The Madness of King George.” This adaptation of Alan Bennett’s satirical play, “The Madness of King George III,” offers the aging British actor one of those roles that comes along, apparently, as often as a sensitive British monarch.

And Hawthorne - uttering the Briton’s trademark interjection “what? what?” - makes the most of it.

Based in fact (though loosely, to say the least), the film is set in that period following the American Revolution when the king, while continually bemoaning the loss of what he can’t help but call “the Colonies,” is kept busy doing what appear to be his official duties.

Of course, his British subjects - as the French are just doing - long ago wised up enough to realize that life under such feckless rule is intolerable. True power now lies in Parliament and with men such as Prime Minister William Pitt (Julian Wadham) and opposition leader Charles James Fox.

The MPs can’t completely ignore the king, though it is clear they would like to. So they continue to curry his favor, even while handing him papers to sign that he makes a big show of reading - but doesn’t really understand.

Show is everything - what? what?

All around him there is intrigue. Besides the Machiavellian machinations of Pitt and his cronies, the king’s heir, the Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett), impatiently awaits his turn on the throne. The prince, who would be named regent (king in all but name) should his father stumble, is merely awaiting signs of the old man’s eventual demise.

And all pounce when it inevitably comes. Afflicted with an obscure psychological disturbance (the symptoms of which include blue-colored urine), the king begins to display his familiar eccentricities, though with greater vigor - if you catch my drift.

Oh, let’s not be coy. Normally a loving father, King George turns away from his loyal queen (Helen Mirren) and develops a roving eye for the ladies - especially for a particularly curvy court regular (Amanda Donohoe).

Pretty soon, the man has gone completely bonkers and the royal household is left in an uproar - which, if you’ll notice, resembles pretty much what is happening to the British royal family of today.

Which, of course, is the point.

Bennett, who adapted his play for director Nicholas Hytner, is trying to make a point about the nature of royalty, specifically of British royalty and most specifically of today’s crazy Windsors. In Bennett’s view, these people have about as much relation to the modern world as do alchemists.

Yet they exist. It is a measure of Bennett’s skill that, even knowing this, we end up rooting for the king to regain his rightful place on the throne.

Hawthorne, who on Tuesday was nominated for an Oscar, is deserving of the nomination - though he will be a long shot to win. “The Madness of King George,” after all, is not your typically respectable British costume drama that Hollywood so loves to honor (“A Man for All Seasons,” for example). This is black comedy, and Hawthorne fits the form well, making us laugh even as he attracts our empathy for his truly terrible plight.

The rest of the cast fits in, from Everett as the foppy prince (and future King George IV) to Mirren (whose nomination for Best Supporting Actress comes as a surprise), from Ian Holm as an 18th-century therapist to Rupert Graves as a loyal royal handler.

This is, though, a one-man show. And Hawthorne takes to center screen like a monarch assuming his throne.

Maybe Parliament should consider him for the real thing - what? what?

MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: “The Madness of King George” Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Cast: Directed Nicholas Hytner, starring Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Amanda Donohoe, Rupert Everett. Running time: 110 minutes Rating: Not rated (equivalent to a PG-13)

A second sidebar ran with this story under the headline: Other views

This sidebar ran with story: “The Madness of King George” Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Cast: Directed Nicholas Hytner, starring Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Amanda Donohoe, Rupert Everett. Running time: 110 minutes Rating: Not rated (equivalent to a PG-13)

A second sidebar ran with this story under the headline: Other views


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