The Madness of King George III (1994)



Director:    Nicholas Hytner

Starring:    Nigel Hawthorne (King George III), Helen Mirren (the Queen), Ian Holm (Dr. Willis), Rupert Everett (the Prince of Wales), Rupert Graves (Greville), John Wood (Thurlow), Amanda Donohoe (Lady Pembroke).

Country:    British film.

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Captain Greville is His Majesty George III's new courier.  The King is upset at his son George.  He says George doesn't know enough about Britain.  He says to his son:  "You ought to get married, settle down."  The Queen chimes in:  "Yes, grow up!"  Young George is not married, but he does have a girlfriend. 

House of Peers.  William Pitt is the Prime Minister and Mr. Fox is the head of the opposition.  The year is 1788.

The petitioners come to present their petitions to the king.  The third woman in line tries to stab the King with a fruit knife.  The King is not hurt and he tells his aides to go easy on the woman. 

The King goes to the farm and looks at the pigs, especially a baby pig.  He talks to William Pitt about the Colonies.  Pitt tells the king that now they are called the United States.  He may not have a good memory about the former colonies, but he has a good memory for people.

It is Christmas time and the King and his family along with many others enjoy a bell serenade.  When it finishes, the king says enthusiastically:  "Let's have it again."  The Queen and King have had fifteen children.  Everybody is standing except the king and Queen and they are tired of this.  They don't want to hear the music again.  Lady Pembroke , daughter of the Duke of Marlboro, and assistant to the Queen is there.  Pitt never smiles. 

George III has a bout of excruciating pain.  Later he says it was a bilious attack.  The doctor told him to take three spoonfuls of a medicine, but instead the King took two glasses of the medicine.  Captain Fitzroy is alarmed by the King's behavior.  He rants on and on about America. 

The King gets up at 4 a.m. when everyone else is asleep.  He shouts out:  "Wake you, sirs."   He reproves them by saying that the king is unattended.  His servants come out to attend them and he has forgotten their names.  The King rushes out and runs around on the huge lawn.  The Queen with Lady Pembroke come rushing out after the King.  The King suddenly kisses Lady Pembroke to everyone's shock.  Something else is strange about him.  The color of his urine is blue. 

Mr. Pitt tells Captain Fitzroy that perhaps it would be better if the King was kept away from concerts and, in fact, all public appearances.  The King comments:  "I've had no piece of mind since we lost America." 

The King does attend a concert.  He goes a bit crazy and again is attracted by Lady Pembroke.  Then the King goes after his son trying to choke him.  Mrs. Fitzherbert is with young George.  At bedtime the King runs up to the top of the palace taking one of his little daughters with him.  Everyone follows him, because they are scared for the little girl.  The Queen chases everyone off the rooftop. The King starts accusing his wife of having incest with young George.  The Queen is shocked but catches herself.  She asks:  "Do you think that you are mad?"  The King replies:  "I don't know."  But, he says:  "Something has happened.  Something is not right."  Greville and Fitzroy come up on the roof.  Greville leads the King away, while Captain Fitzroy tells the Queen that her quarters are being moved.  She is not to have access to the king from now on. 

The Queen rushes to see young George.  She rushes up to him and gives him a hard slap across the face.  George makes it out to be a joke and the others in the room laugh along with him.  The Queen now changes tactics and begs George to let her stay with the king.  George says:  "No."  The Queen asks on what authority has he made this decision?  He says on medical authority.  Very coldly he tells his mother:  "In his current frame of mind His Majesty does not seem to care for you." 

The doctors submit the King to procedures that bring him a great deal of pain.  Some days the Queen  can even hear his cries of pain.  She hears him yellilng:  "The Queen!  Help!"

Mr. Pitt is brought to see the King out on a walk on the lawn.  George III tells Mr. Pitt to come closer to him because, he says, he can't see very well.  There is something like a mist over his eyes.  He also mentions that he misses the Queen very much.  All of a sudden, the man has a bad attack of diarrhea and has to pull down his pants and defecate on the lawn. 

In Parliament Mr. Fox proposes to pass a bill to make the Prince of Wales the Regent.  On the first vote, however, Fox and his side loses by thirty votes.  A representative of the government mentions that His Majesty must recover soon or they are all done for.  Lady Pembroke recommends Dr. Willis.  Willis is brought in to speak with the King.  He tells the King that he has a farm.  The King says to the doctor:  "I'm not mad, just nervous."  Willis says he has a hospital in Lincolnshire.  The King becomes a bit wild and rude toward the doctor, saying:  "If His Majesty will not behave, he will have to be restrained!"  The King won't behave, so the doctor's men grab him and forcefully put him in a chair for  restraint.  Then they put a gag over his mouth.

The other doctors continue to examine the King.  One doctor specializes in examining the patient's stools.  The doctors seem to think that Dr. Willis is actually a dangerous man and they should gang up against him.  Young George says he will see his dad, but at Kew.  There Dr. Willis feeds the King soup.  The King accepts a spoonful and then spits it back in the face of the doctor.  The next spoonful he swallows.  When he eats something by himself, the staff applauds him. 

William Pitt comes out to see the King.  The King tells him:  "They've killed the queen."  In secret the Prince of Wales has married a Catholic, but the marriage is illegal since it does not have the approval of the King.  Alone with the doctor, the King calls him a barbarian.  Dr. Willis gives him the look, and the King walks over to the restraint chair and sits down in it to be gagged and restrained.  

Mr. Pitt receives a message that the King's health is continually improving.  But it hasn't improved enough.  This time they won just by three votes.  When the Queen sees a copy of the bill she says that this is the King's death warrant.  She sends Lady Pembroke to get in and get permission for the Queen to be allowed to see the King.  Greville says she cannot see the King because his language is still quite filthy.  Lady Pembroke pours on the charm and Greville starts to melt. 

The Queen does get in to see the King.  He is not happy to see her.  He says they have been married for twenty-eight years, but she has abandoned him to his tormentors.  She explains that they wouldn't let her see him.  The Queen says that a bill has been prepared to make the son regent.  The King becomes enraged and shouts:  "By whose authority?"   Then he demands to know why wasn't he told about this matter?  The Queen says that the bill will be presented this very day. 

A man named Thurlow goes to check on the King's progress.  He is surprised to see that he is reciting a play by Shakespeare using Dr. Willis and another man for the parts.  Thurlow takes the roles that Dr. Willis had.  After awhile Thurlow says to the King:  "Your Majesty seems more yourself."  The King likes hearing this.  He says he does feel better.  And then he uses the "What? What?" that he stopped saying when he became sick.  Everyone seems to think the King has turned a corner. 

With the King much better, they race the king to Parliament.  Thurlow races up the stairs with the news that the King is better.  The news quickly goes through the Parliament and the M.P.s rush out to see the King.  The King tells the crowd that since "our" strength has returned, "we" will once more take up the reins of government.

The King goes to see the Queen.  Young George and Fred are sent for.  They arrive two hours late as is their pattern.  The Queen is mad at the boys, but her husband says:  "Love, that 's the keynote."  But when the young brothers come in, the King goes after them.  He tells young George that he will not approve his marriage.  He says that he should put her away.  The King also says that his debts will be paid and he will receive money. 

The King speaks with Mr. Pitt.  He mentions the Colonies and, as usual, Pitt tells him that America is now a nation.  Surprisingly, the King says:  "Well, we must get used to it."  Then he just drops the subject. 

There is a shake-up in the staff.  Two of the King's aides are let go.  Greville brings them the bad news and they are shocked.  A little later Greville receives his pink slip. 

When the King sees Lady Pembroke he tells her that when he was sick they tell him that he was not at his best towards her.  She says that she has no recollection of that.  He then asks her if they "did" it?  If it happened, he would like to know because he certainly would like to remember that.  She says no. 

The King returns to his Queen and tells her that they have been happy and shall be again. 

The Royal family arrives in a coach.  They wave to the crowd that has gathered to see them.  The King says that they must try to be more of a family from now on. 

"The color of the King's urine suggests that he was suffering from porphyria, a physical illness that affects the nervous system.  The disease is periodic, unpredictable and hereditary."


Good movie.  It's not supposed to be a comedy, but many times it was funny because of the crazy things the King would say. When the King became ill, no one knew the cause.  They only knew that he was not mentally up to the task of being king.  He was subjected to a lot of unnecessary pain because of the un-helpful nature of the procedures they used on him.  Probably what cured him was just time.  of course, when the King is weakened there is a scramble for power among the powerful.  Young George tries to get himself named regent and William Pitt tries to stop this.  Nigel Hawthorne (as King George III) was very good and Helen Mirren (as the Queen) was convincing as the loving Charlotte.  Rupert Everret looks just terrible as the Prince of Wales.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:  

1760 -- reign of George III (to 1820).

1763 -- Peace of Paris ends French and Indian War -- England gets Canada and Florida.

1765 brief episode of porphyria for the King.

1775  -- Battle of Lexington and Concord.

1776  -- American Declaration of Independence.

1788 (summer) the King had a long episode of porphyria .

1788 (November) the King became seriously deranged, sometimes speaking for many hours without pause, causing him to foam at the mouth. His doctors like Francis Willis treated him by forcibly restraining him until he was calm. Others would apply caustic poultices to draw out "evil humors".

In the later part of his life, George III suffered from what was thought to be mental illness. Medical practitioners were baffled by the problem. It has been suggested that he suffered from the disease called porphyria. Acute porphyria can affect the nervous system. Porphyrias are a group of inherited or acquired disorders of certain enzymes in the heme biosynthetic pathway. A heme is a prosthetic group consisting of an iron atom contained in the center of a large heterocyclic organic ring called a porphyrin.

1810 George III had a final relapse of porphyria. A regency was established with the Prince of Wales ruling as Prince Regent.

1829 death of George III. The Prince Regent succeeded his father as George IV.


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