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The Madness of King George

Alan Bennett's remarkable London stage play The Madness of George III had a perfectly fine title — at least until it was to made into an international film, at which time it was decided it should be recast as The Madness of King George, for fear that American moviegoers would think George III was a sequel to two prior films, and thus avoid it. Whether such helped its modest U.S. box office in 1994 is a matter of debate, but if you count yourself as somebody who is unaware that England at one time had a King George III who lost the American Colonies and later succumbed to insanity, you just might want to avoid this DVD. On the other hand, if you admire crisp storytelling and sweeping dramatic performances, this one's good enough to add to the collection. Nigel Hawthorne reprises his stage performance as George III, and while the monarch has been sufficiently vilified in American history for opposing American independence, historically he ranks among England's most effective and popular kings. Bennett's script makes such plain — the British admire their ruling family, and George III has earned the nickname "Farmer George" for his devotion to his rural subjects. But in 1788 the king — headstrong in nature, but never erratic — succumbs to an inexplicable malady, rashly losing his temper in public and even rising in pre-dawn hours to journey outdoors in his nightclothes to seize the day. It is soon apparent that the King's "water" (urine) in his chamberpot has turned an unusual blue, and while his immediate staff ponders what to do about their monarch's mysterious condition, a power vacuum arises in Parliament — where the liberal leader Fox (Jim Carter) forms an alliance with the effete Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett) to place the junior royal in power, while conservative Prime Minister Pitt (Julian Wadham) finds a humane but unorthodox physician (Ian Holm) to treat the king and defend the status quo at all costs. While taken from a confined stage play, The Madness of King George is a gloriously picturesque film, with lavish, populated sets under the direction of Nicholas Hytner that effectively convey the lush surroundings of the English monarchy, along with many rustic English landscapes. Hawthorne's central performance dominates the film, and his range is breathtaking — transforming from an effective, brusque autocrat to an unhinged lunatic, and later to a chagrined, restored king who still believes in the essential function of the monarchy, but less in his own vitality or the value of his progeny. Holm's impertinent, fire-and-brimstone doctor is the king's main adversary, Wadham and Carter are charming political rivals, Everett is wonderfully volatile as Wales, and Helen Mirren has a touching turn as the long-suffering Queen Charlotte, whose entire existence is brushed aside during the crisis. A film that offers greater pleasures with each viewing, MGM's DVD edition of The Madness of King George features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.

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