A meditation on power and the metaphor of the body of state, based on the real episode of dementia experienced by George III [now suspected a victim of porphyria…
Release Year: 1994
Rating: 7.3/10 (7,523 voted)
Stars: Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm
A meditation on power and the metaphor of the body of state, based on the real episode of dementia experienced by George III [now suspected a victim of porphyria, a blood disorder]. As he loses his senses, he becomes both more alive and more politically marginalized; neither effect desirable to his lieutenants, who jimmy the rules to avoid a challenge to regal authority, raising the question of who is really in charge.
Writers: Alan Bennett, Alan Bennett
King George III
Dr. Francis Willis
Robert Fulke Greville
Lady Elizabeth Pembroke
Prince of Wales
Frederick, Duke of York
William Pitt Jr.
Charles James Fox
Matthew Lloyd Davies
His Majesty was all powerful and all knowing. But he wasn't quite all there.
Release Date: 28 December 1994
Filming Locations: Arundel Castle, Arundel, West Sussex, England, UK
Did You Know?
One bit of business that failed to survive the transition from stage to film: Pitt's drinking. While in the film George III briefly mentions Pitt's drinking habits to his wife, on stage, as Alan Bennett puts it, "Pitt takes a swig from a hip flask, such a regular feature of his behaviour it is not noted in the stage directions." (The historical Pitt was considered a heavy drinker even by eighteenth-century standards, especially as he got older; modern biographers agree that his alcohol intake probably contributed to his early death.)
At the end of the film, the Royal Family goes to St Paul's Cathedral. A view of the front of the Cathedral shows that the clock in the left-hand tower is missing, but this was as a result of the bombings on London during World War II, 150 years later.
The cork's too tight in the bottle, that's the trouble. He must be the first King of England not to have a mistress.
Fifteen children seem to me to indicate a certain conscientiousness in that regard.
I'm talking of pleasure, not duty.
The King Who Talked To The Trees – And Claimed They Talked Back
He was our last King, and the one we are raised to hate the memory of.
And he was actually a hard working monarch, wrong headed at times, who
had the longest reign (for any monarch – until Queen Victoria) in
English history. He was George III (reigned 1760 – 1820 – the last nine
years incapacitated by insanity and blindness). It was while he was
ruling Great Britain that the American Revolution occurred, the French
Revolution occurred, Napoleon rose and fell, and the industrial
revolution hit Western Europe and the Americas. His is a key reign of
We are taught he was a tyrant. Actually he was a conscientious
supporter of the British Constitution, but he believed the colonists
were disobedient children who should have been punished for their own
good. Once it was obvious that they had won on the battlefield, George
offered to abdicate. He was talked out of it, and eventually faced up
to accepting the papers of the new Minister from the United States, Mr.
John Adams. But he never really fully accepted it, and in his last
decade the two countries fought a second war (the War of 1812).
George III was a good, but strict family man. He and his wife Charlotte
had seven sons and six daughters. But his sons were disappointments
(the best one, Frederick, Duke of York, was a second-rate army
commander who got involved in a scandal when his mistress, Mrs. Clarke,
sold army commissions "in the name of the Duke of York" to undeserving
men). The German Georges had a tradition of hatred between the Kings
and their sons and heirs. George I was hated by George II because the
former had imprisoned his wife (George II's mother) for life for
infidelity (see SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS). George II was hated by his
son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and kicked the son out of the royal
palace. Frederick died prematurely in 1758, so his son George III
succeeded in 1760. His son, known as Florizel or "Prinny", had a long
standing relationship with Mrs. Fitzherbert, a popular actress who
happened to be Catholic. It was actually known by King George III that
Prinny had an illegal marriage with Mrs. Fitzherbert. As head of the
Church of England, George III resented this act. He also disliked
Prinny's support of Whig politicians Charles James Fox and Richard
Sheridan (and sometimes Edmund Burke). The King was a good Tory – he
never realized that Prinny's politics were a way of annoying him, and
Prinny was even more reactionary than the King was. Prinny's gambling
and drinking debts also annoyed the King.
George was able to support the wise government (to 1789 anyway) of
William Pitt the Younger. So supportive was he, that Pitt would
reciprocate. For one day, in 1788, King George got out of his carriage
in a forest, walked over to a tree, and had a long conversation with
it. The tree, you see, was not a tree, but actually the now dead King
Frederick the Great of Prussia. George III was showing signs of
dementia. He was the first really certifiable monarch since Henry VI
back in the 15th Century. George's son Prinny was ready to back a bill
to remove his father and lock him away. Pitt saw Fox ready to replace
him, and fought a long delaying action on the Regency bill. It worked,
as Dr. Wills managed to bring the dementia under control.
It would only be in 1811, when Pitt was dead for five years (and Fox
for four) that a Tory Government passed a Regency bill, but by then
Prinny was openly anti-Whig. It was politically allowable for the
Percival Ministry to chance Prinny as Regent by then. After George III
died he would become George IV and reign until 1830.
This film has followed the tragic illness that incapacity (and
eventually) destroyed George III, but only to the conclusion of it's
first appearance in 1789. Nigel Hawthorne had performed the role to
international acclaim on stage. He repeats it here, showing a
thoughtful monarch (witness why he is upset about the errant colonies
gaining independence – the valuable natural resources are lost, and he
is aware of this). He is puritanical when normal, but with a son like
Prinny who could blame him for being sorely disappointed. From the
start you find yourself rooting for Hawthorne's monarch, who was not
the evil tyrant that Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson painted.
Rupert Everett shows the callousness of the Prince of Wales, who is so
selfish that at one point (when safely alone) Pitt and Fox wonder if
their American cousins were right about abolishing the monarchy. Ian
Holm, as Dr. Wills, is properly a mixture of early pioneer of
psychology and tyrant. A wonderful film of how a national crisis was
met and overcome peacefully. And timely too. Within weeks of the
recovery of George III in 1789 the Bastille fell in Paris.