Moviegoers may fondly recall one of the finest costume dramas of years past, The Madness of King George. Directed by Nicholas Hytner (The Crucible), the 1994 film version of Alan Bennett’s play, The Madness of George III (which was also directed by Hytner), dramatized the plight of England’s eighteenth-century sovereign George III, magnificently re-enacted by the late Nigel Hawthorne (“What, what!”), who repeated his successful stage role for the screen.
In particular, we remember how that same monarch — who lost the American colonies to a bold, grassroots movement — was suddenly struck down in the prime of his life by a mysterious ailment, all the while behaving rather “irrationally,” to put it mildly, toward his wife, Queen Charlotte (a steadfast Helen Mirren), and her ladies in waiting, while spewing forth all-manner of childish prattle; then, ultimately being “cured” by minister-turned-medic Dr. Willis (the no-nonsense Ian Holm, in his pre-Bilbo Baggins days), who uses the most unconventional of methods then available to science, in a sort of physician’s mind-over-monarch approach.
In our more “enlightened” times, King George’s pet peeves, in fact, may turn out to have been a rare form of disease we know today as porphyria, an incurable affliction that attacks the body’s central nervous system. It manifests itself in various forms, including abdominal pain and tachycardia, as well as unreasonable behavior toward individuals (i.e., boorish shouting, constant interruptions, and lewd remarks — and there was plenty of that in the film) and portentously dark urinary output. In the movie, the color of the king’s “water” is a rather unsettling shade of blue.
While all this is transpiring behind the scenes, the king’s indolent eldest son (also named George, and played in appropriate, stiff-upper-lip fashion by a lazy-eyed Rupert Everett), is goaded into taking over his father’s throne by first having His Majesty declared a mental incompetent (good luck with that!), then attempting to assume the role of a “democratically” appointed regent by allying himself with his father’s opponents. Now, now, Georgie! Behave thyself!
When The Madness of King George was first released, it was considered a fairly scathing commentary on Queen Elizabeth II and her own purportedly dysfunctional royal family. Today, it bears closer scrutiny, for it depicts not only the disintegration from within of a fragile form of government (shades of the fractious U.S. Congress), but one that was entirely dependent upon the force and personality of a solitary, charismatic leader, that is, the king himself (paging Donald Trump).
Nevertheless, the latest research from a St. George’s University in London study showed that the king may indeed have been suffering from mental illness all along. After a lengthy examination of the hundreds upon hundreds of letters the prolific George III sent to various and sundry individuals throughout his long reign, the research team concluded that, because of the sovereign’s wordiness and use of complex language and vocabulary — in addition to his overly colorful epithets and breathless loquaciousness — he may also have experienced one of the earliest documented incidents of bipolar disorder.
As for the blue-tinted urine, that was explained by the royal physicians’ ministering of a medication derived from the gentian plant. With its deep blue petals, the plant is still in use today as a mild sedative or tonic that could turn one’s urinary output blue (What, what?).
With the king’s return to “normally acceptable” court behavior, a parliamentary crisis is averted and the English monarchy resumes its steady-as-she-goes course for a grand total of 60 years under His Majesty’s rule. The newly put-forth diagnosis of mental illness, mixed with the dual-personality issues, appear to have finally addressed the notion that the madness of King George had a psychological as well as a neurological basis.
That George III eventually recovered his wits about him, and came back, full-throttle, to lord it over his wayward son — and put down those poor unfortunates who came ever-so-close to fomenting out-and-out rebellion against his realm — was not lost on modern movie audiences.
Considering how our own politicians have been faring of late, maybe they should have their own urinary output examined. You know, just in case …
The Madness of King George (1994)
Produced by Stephen Evans and David Parfitt; directed by Nicholas Hytner; screenplay written by Alan Bennett, from his play The Madness of George III; music by George Fenton and George Frederic Handel; cinematography by Andrew Dunn; edited by Tariq Anwar; starring Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Rupert Everett, Amanda Donohue, John Wood, and Rupert Graves. 107 min. Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Company.
Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes