The Madness of King George
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byNicholas Hytner
Screenplay byAlan Bennett
Based onThe Madness of George III
by Alan Bennett
Produced by
CinematographyAndrew Dunn
Edited byTariq Anwar
Music by
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 28 December 1994 (1994-12-28) (United States)
  • 24 March 1995 (1995-03-24) (United Kingdom)
Running time
110 minutes[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$27.4 million[3]

The Madness of King George is a 1994 British biographical comedy drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner and adapted by Alan Bennett from his own 1991 play The Madness of George III. It tells the true story of George III of Great Britain's deteriorating mental health, and his equally declining relationship with his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, particularly focusing on the period around the Regency Crisis of 1788–89. Two text panels at the end of the film note that the colour of the King's urine suggests that he was suffering from porphyria, adding that the disease is "periodic, unpredictable and hereditary."

The Madness of King George won the BAFTA Awards in 1995 for Outstanding British Film and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Nigel Hawthorne, who was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film won the Oscar for Best Art Direction and was also nominated for Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Mirren and Best Adapted Screenplay. Helen Mirren also won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress and Hytner was nominated for the Palme d'Or.

In 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Madness of King George the 42nd greatest British film of all time.


King George III's bout of madness in 1788 touched off the Regency Crisis of 1788 and triggered a power struggle between factions of Parliament under the Tory Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and the reform-minded Leader of the Opposition Charles James Fox.

At first, the King's behaviour appears mildly eccentric. He is deeply concerned with the wellbeing and productivity of Great Britain and exhibits an encyclopaedic knowledge of the families of even the most obscure royal appointments. He is devoted to his loving wife, Queen Charlotte, and their large brood of 15 children. However, he is growing more unsettled, partly over the loss of America. His memory fails, his behaviour becomes erratic and hypersexual, he talks and talks, and his urine turns blue.

George, Prince of Wales, aggravates the situation, knowing that he will be named regent if the King becomes incapacitated. George chafes under his father's relentless criticism, and yearns for greater freedom, particularly when it comes to choosing a wife. He married the woman everyone believes to be his mistress, Mrs. Fitzherbert, in a secret ceremony in 1785. Without his father's consent, the marriage is illegal. Even with consent, it would remove him from the succession, because Fitzherbert is a Catholic. He knows that he has the moral support of Fox, whose agenda includes abolition of the slave trade and friendlier relations with America. Knowing how to exacerbate the King's behaviour, the Prince arranges a concert of music by Handel. The King reacts as expected, interrupting the musicians, speaking lasciviously to Lady Pembroke, and finally assaulting his son.

In a private moment, the King tells Charlotte that he knows something is wrong. They are brutally interrupted when the Prince has them separated, supposedly on the advice of physicians. Led by the Prince of Wales' personal physician, Dr. Warren, the King is treated using the medical practices of the time, which focus on the state of his urine and bowel movements and include painful cupping and purgatives.

Lady Pembroke recommends Dr. Francis Willis, who cured her mother-in-law. Willis uses novel procedures. At his farm in Lincolnshire, patients work to gain “a better opinion of themselves.” He observes to an equerry “To be curbed, thwarted, stood up to, exercises the character.” When the King insults him, foully, he is strapped into a chair and gagged. He will be restrained whenever he “swears and indulges in meaningless discourse” and “does not strive every day and always towards his own recovery”.

When the Prince has the King transferred to Kew, Charlotte watches as her beloved, bearded and wearing a soiled diaper and a straitjacket, struggles against being put in the coach. “Until you can govern yourself, you're not fit to govern others. And until you do so, I shall govern you,” Willis says. At Kew, the King spits soup at Willis, but gains control under the physician's intractable gaze.[a] Later, the King, properly dressed, feeds himself to a round of applause from staff—but the delusions persist.

The Whig opposition confronts Pitt's increasingly unpopular Tory government with a proposal that would give the Prince powers of regency. Baron Thurlow, the Lord Chancellor, obtains and suppresses proof of the marriage. Fox wins, and the Regency Bill is printed. Thurlow comes to see the King and joins in a moving reading of King Lear.[4] “I have remembered how to seem...” the King muses. “What, what!” an expression he has not used in 6 months. His urine is yellow.

Thurlow and the King arrive at Parliament in time to thwart the bill. The King forces the Prince to admit his marriage and to put away Fitzherbert. With the crisis averted, all those who have witnessed his suffering are summarily dismissed, including Greville. Fitzroy observes: “To be kind does not commend you to kings.”

Cheering crowds welcome the royal family to St. Paul's Cathedral. Willis stands by, but the King dismisses him.

“We must be a model family,” he declares; George wants “something to do.” “Smile at the people, wave at them. Let them see that we're happy. That's why we're here.” Saluting, Willis disappears into the crowd, where Mrs. Fitzherbert also smiles, wistfully.



Alan Bennett insisted that director Nicholas Hytner and actor Nigel Hawthorne should be cast in the film version, after having acted in the play.[6][7]

Title change

In adapting the play to film, the director Nicholas Hytner changed the name from The Madness of George III to The Madness of King George for American audiences, to clarify George III's royalty. A popular explanation developed that the change was made because there was a worry that American audiences would think it was a sequel and not go to see it, assuming they had missed "I" and "II". An interview revealed: "That's not totally untrue," said Hytner, laughing. "But there was also the factor that it was felt necessary to get the word King into the title."[8]

Filming locations

Principal photography took place from 11 July to 9 September 1994. The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and on location at:[citation needed]


Box office

The Madness of King George was the second highest-grossing British film of the year, behind Shallow Grave, with a gross of £4.6 million in the UK.[9] It debuted strongly at the US box office[10] and went on to gross $15,238,689 in the United States and Canada and $27.4 million worldwide.[11][3]

Critical response

The film received largely positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 94% "Certified Fresh" score based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's consensus states: "Thanks largely to stellar all-around performances from a talented cast, The Madness of King George is a funny, entertaining, and immensely likable adaptation of the eponymous stage production."[12]

Reviewing the film for Variety, Emanuel Levy praised the film highly, writing: "Under Hytner's guidance, the cast, composed of some of the best actors in British cinema, rises to the occasion... Boasting a rich period look, almost every shot is filled with handsome, emotionally charged composition."[13]

John Simon of The National Review wrote, "The Madness of King George III has survived the transfer from stage to screen, and emerges equally enjoyable on film." Simon praised all the leading actors and most of the supporting cast with the exception of Jim Carter's portrayal of Fox, which he said lacked charisma.[14]

Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote, "For those who, like myself, were disappointed in the play, the film contains pleasant surprises, all of them resulting from differences between the two arts."[15]

Year-end lists

Awards and honours

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Alan Bennett Nominated
Academy Awards[19] Best Actor Nigel Hawthorne Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Helen Mirren Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Alan Bennett Nominated
Best Art Direction Ken Adam and Carolyn Scott Won
British Academy Film Awards[20] Best Film Stephen Evans, David Parfitt and Nicholas Hytner Nominated
Outstanding British Film Won
Best Direction Nicholas Hytner Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Nigel Hawthorne Won
Best Actress in a Leading Role Helen Mirren Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Ian Holm Nominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted Alan Bennett Nominated
Best Cinematography Andrew Dunn Nominated
Best Costume Design Mark Thompson Nominated
Best Editing Tariq Anwar Nominated
Best Make Up/Hair Lisa Westcott Won
Best Original Music George Fenton Nominated
Best Production Design Ken Adam Nominated
Best Sound Christopher Ackland, David Crozier and Robin O'Donoghue Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers[21] Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Andrew Dunn Won
Cannes Film Festival[22] Palme d'Or Nicholas Hytner Nominated
Best Actress Helen Mirren Won
Empire Awards Best Actor Nigel Hawthorne Won
Evening Standard British Film Awards Best Film Nicholas Hytner Won
Best Screenplay Alan Bennett Won
Best Technical and Artistic Achievement Andrew Dunn Won
Goya Awards Best European Film Nicholas Hytner Nominated
London Film Critics Circle Awards British Film of the Year Won
British Actor of the Year Nigel Hawthorne Won
British Actress of the Year Helen Mirren Nominated
British Screenwriter of the Year Alan Bennett Won
British Technical Achievement of the Year Ken Adam Won
National Board of Review Awards[23] Top Ten Films 8th Place
Writers Guild of America Awards[24] Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Alan Bennett Nominated
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards[25] Best Screenplay Won

See also


  1. ^ According to the film, it was unheard of for anyone to look directly at the King without his permission.


  1. ^ a b Dawtrey, Adam (8 January 1995). "Goldwyn, CH. 4 Team". Variety. Retrieved 28 June 2022.
  2. ^ a b "THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 23 January 1995. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b Klady, Leonard (19 February 1996). "B.O. with a vengeance: $9.1 billion worldwide". Variety. p. 1.
  4. ^ Act IV, scene 7
  5. ^ "Record:The Madness of King George". National Theatre Archive. Retrieved 11 May 2023.
  6. ^ "The Madness of King George".
  7. ^ DAVID GRITTEN (8 January 1995). "Late-Blooming Nigel Hawthorne Enjoys 'Madness' of King-Size Role in Hytner's Film". Los Angeles Times. "It was wonderful that Alan Bennett insisted on Nick and me doing the film after we'd done it as a play," he said of the playwright.
  8. ^ "PROFILE : Life on an Artistic Carousel : Nicholas Hytner, director of 'Miss Saigon' and 'Carousel,' and 'Madness of King George' on film, is the hottest British import. Is he ready for America's Pop Icon Machine?". LA Times. 8 January 1995. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  9. ^ "UK Top 100 Films Dec 1, 1994-Nov 26, 1995". Screen International. 26 January 1996. p. 61.
  10. ^ Natale, Richard (3 January 1995). "New Year Box Office Starts Off With Bang Movies: At $15.5 million, 'Dumb' stole the show during the long holiday weekend. But many other movies filled the seats as well". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  11. ^ "The Madness of King George (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  12. ^ "The Madness of King George (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  13. ^ Levy, Emanuel (16 December 1994). "The Madness of King George". Variety. Retrieved 23 November 2023.
  14. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. pp. 450–451.
  15. ^ Stanley Kauffmann at
  16. ^ a b Turan, Kenneth (25 December 1994). "1994: YEAR IN REVIEW : No Weddings, No Lions, No Gumps". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Awards for 1994". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on 25 November 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  18. ^ Maslin, Janet (27 December 1994). "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; The Good, Bad and In-Between In a Year of Surprises on Film". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  19. ^ "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. AMPAS. Archived from the original on 9 November 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  20. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1996". BAFTA. 1996. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  21. ^ "Best Cinematography in Feature Film" (PDF). Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  22. ^ "Awards 1995: All Awards". Archived from the original on 3 January 2015.
  23. ^ "1994 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  24. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2010.
  25. ^ "Writers' Guild Awards 1994". Writers' Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 3 June 2021.