The film depicts the ordeal of King George III whose bout of madness in 1788 touched off the Regency Crisis, triggering a power struggle between factions of parliament under the conservative William Pitt the Younger and the reform-minded Charles James Fox.
At first, the King's habits appear mildly eccentric, and are purposely ignored for reasons of state. The King is seen as being highly concerned with the wellbeing and productivity of England, and continually exhibits an encyclopedic knowledge of the families of even the most obscure royal appointments. In fact, the King is growing more unsettled, largely over the loss of America. George, his oldest son, aggravates the situation, knowing that he would be named regent in the event the King was found incapacitated. George chafes under his father's repeated criticism, but also hopes for regency to allow him greater freedom to marry his Catholic mistress. George also knows that he has the moral support of Charles Fox, who is eager to put across an agenda unlikely to pass under the current administration, including abolition of the slave trade and friendlier relations with America. Knowing that the King’s behavior is exacerbated in public, the Prince arranges for a concert playing the music of Handel. The King reacts as expected, interrupting the musicians, acting inappropriately towards Lady Pembroke, attendant to the Queen, and finally assaulting his son.
The King's madness is treated using the relatively primitive medical practices of the time, which include blistering and purges, led on particularly by the Prince of Wales' personal physician, Dr. Warren. Eventually, Lady Pembroke recommends Dr Willis, an ex-minister who attempts to cure the insane through new procedures, and who begins his restoration of the King's mental state by enforcing a strict regime of strapping the King into a waistcoat and restraining him whenever he shows signs of his insanity or otherwise resists recovery.
Meanwhile, the opposition led by Charles James Fox, confronts Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger's increasingly unpopular government with a bill that would give the Prince powers of regency. Meanwhile, Baron Thurlow, the Chancellor, discovers that the Prince was secretly and illegally married to his Catholic mistress. Thurlow pays the minister to keep his mouth shut, and himself tears out a record of the marriage from church rolls.
The King soon shows signs of recovery, becoming less eccentric and arrives in Parliament in time to thwart passage of the Regency bill. Restored, the King asserts control over his family, forcing the Prince to “put away” his mistress. With the crisis averted, those who had been closest to the king are summarily dismissed from service, including Dr Willis. During conversations with Pitt, the King appears more at ease and in control of himself. He is less antagonized by America, but also shows signs that his insanity remains.
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 royal origins.
Principal photography took place from 11 July to 9 September 1994. The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and on location at:Arundel Castle, Arundel, West Sussex
Divinity School, Oxford
Broughton Castle, Banbury, Oxfordshire
Eton College, Eton, Berkshire
Royal Naval College, Greenwich
St. Paul's Cathedral, London
Syon House, Brentford, Middlesex
Thame Park, Oxfordshire
Wilton House, Wilton, Wiltshire
The Madness of King George debuted strongly at the box office. The film grossed $15,238,689 from 464 North American venues.
The film received largely positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 93% "Certified Fresh" score based on 43 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."
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."Best Actor (Nigel Hawthorne) - Nominated
Best Supporting Actress (Helen Mirren) - Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay (Alan Bennett) - Nominated
Best Art Direction (Ken Adam, Carolyn Scott) - Won
Best Film (David Parfitt) - Nominated
Best British Film (David Parfitt) - 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 Adapted Screenplay (Alan Bennett) - Nominated
Best Film Music (George Fenton) - Nominated
Best Cinematography (Andrew Dunn) - Nominated
Best Production Design (Ken Adam) - Nominated
Best Costume Design (Mark Thompson) - Nominated
Best Editing (Tariq Anwar) - Nominated
Best Sound (Christopher Ackland, David Crozier, Robin O'Donoghue) - Nominated
Best Makeup and Hair (Lisa Westcott) - Won
Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress (Helen Mirren) - Won
Palme d'Or (Ncholas Hytner) - Nominated
Best Actor (Nigel Hawthorne - Won.
Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Film (Nicholas Hytner) - Won
Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Screenplay (Alan Bennett) - Won
Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Technical/Artistic Achievement (Andrew Dunn) - Won
Goya Award for Best European Film (Nicholas Hytner) - Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Film of the Year - Won
London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Actor of the Year (Nigel Hawthorne) - Won
London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Actress of the Year (Helen Mirren) - Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Screenwriter of the Year (Alan Bennett) - Won
London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Technical Achievement of the Year (Ken Adam) - Won
National Board of Review: Top Ten Films - Won
Writers Guild of America: Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (Alan Bennett) - Nominated
Writers' Guild of Great Britain: Film - Screenplay (Alan Bennett) - Won