Legend has it that George III once ordered hundreds of beef steaks to be buried in a field in the belief that, come spring, a nice herd of cows would sprout. Sadly, that piece of British history is absent from The Madness Of King George, but fans of idiot monarchs will find little else to complain about.
At the film's start, however, all is well as the King (Hawthorne) and "Mrs King" (Mirren) rule the country happily enough with only that nasty business of losing that trifling little colony America blotting their regal copybook. Unfortunately, Hawthorne soon begins to act oddly and, after one assault on lady-in-waiting Amanda Donohoe too many, he is effectively shut away for his own good. Having been declared insane - although it would now appear he was suffering from the blood disorder porphyria - he is subsequently prescribed such contemporary "cures" as skin-blistering, stool examination and, once the veritable Dr. Willis (Holm) comes on the scene, brutal restraint. Of course, none of this does much to improve his state of mind, and the perpetually indolent Prince Of Wales (Rupert Everett) is soon demanding to be declared Regent. The remainder of the film traces the attempts of Prime Minister Pitt The Younger (Julian Wadham) to thwart such a plan while Hawthorne painstakingly tries to regroup what is left of his marbles.
With only the occasional whiff of the film's theatrical roots coming through, this is an excellent debut from director Hytner who never lets Alan Bennett's script linger too long in either farce or tragedy. The real treat, though, is Hawthorne who, whether lecturing his family on regal responsibility or taking a dump in front of the PM, gives what is undoubtedly the performance of his career. Anyone, meanwhile, who doubts the relevance of such a tale to contemporary society might take note that porphyria is hereditary.