Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Screenplay by Alan Bennett, based upon his play
Starring Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Amanda Donohoe, and Rupert Everett
The year 1994 belonged to box office juggernaut, and improbable awards darling, Forrest Gump. It’s domestic gross, thanks to Box Office Mojo, was $329 million, on top of its seven Oscar wins from 13 nominations, which included taking the trophies for Picture, Director, Actor and Adapted Screenplay. And somewhat rare among Best Picture winners, it’s actually fairly enjoyable. It’s not great – certainly not Best Picture worthy – but it’s not bad, either. And that’s how we would remember the film today if not for it having one Best Picture over a true classic, Pulp Fiction.
Just as Crash would be forever tainted by beating Brokeback Mountain and could never be a movie judged on its own merits again, Forrest Gump is derided for having bested Pulp Fiction. The win doesn’t change the quality of either movie, only the perception of them, and opens them up to harsher criticism than they might otherwise face. As Pulp Fiction’s faults are overlooked because it didn’t win Best Picture, Forrest Gump’s are magnified because it won.
The other films nominated for Best Picture 1994 were Four Weddings and Funeral, which served as Hugh Grant’s coming out party; Quiz Show, which gave us another, gentler side of Ralph Fiennes; and, The Shawshank Redemption, which is probably going to be the highest rated film on the IMDB until this world goes up in flames.
What all five of these films – Gump, Fiction, Weddings, Quiz Show, and Shawshank – have in common is that beyond being your 1994 Best Picture nominees, is I’ve already seen them. All five of them. And aside from Quiz Show, I’ve seen them multiple times. Now, regular readers of this series will note that the whole point of doing this was to watch Best Picture losers I hadn’t seen as a way to expand my cinematic horizons. Even so, I knew at the outset I’d find a year or two where I’d seen all the Best Picture nominees and would have to find some other film that year to latch onto.
Well, 1994 is the first of them. I suspect there will be many more to come.
In looking for another film I considered selecting from the Best Director losers, but only two nominated two directors didn’t line in the Best Picture race: Woody Allen for Bullets Over Broadway and Krzysztof Kieslowski for Three Colours: Red. Now, I’ve seen Bullets, and even though it’s not peak-Woody Allen, it’s certainly all right. As for Red, I’m sure I’ve seen it, but if I did, it was more-than 20 years ago, meaning I have no memory of it. To be fair, I might have seen Three Colours: Bleu, and am just confused, but cest la vie. Anyway, because there is a good chance I’ve seen it before, I moved on.
In the end, I was left with looking at the acting races for a likely film and given we have a Helen Mirren nomination there for Best Supporting Actress, to go with Nigel Hawthorne’s nomination for Best Actor, for their work in The Madness of King George, and because who doesn’t love Helen Mirren, it was instantly clear where I’d make my play.
So, congratulations The Madness of King George, after extensive scraping of the bottom of the barrel, you are the subject of this entry!
What’s It About?
When King George III starts to show signs of mental illness, a plot is put into motion by the Prince and other members of King’s inner-circle to use official procedures to usurp the crown and take control of the government and treasury. To thwart the plot, the King need only re-gather his wits.
You Don’t Vote For King
I’m an American, so the notion of kings and queens is bullshit to me. To borrow an appropriate quote Monty Python and The Holy Grail:
“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”
The Madness of King George provides a perfect example of why that line from Holy Grail is so important. Rather than portray the royals as all-knowing, all-powerful, Madness portrays them as petty, corrupt and prone to their own ineptitude and mental failings. In doing so, it exposes the monarchical system of government as hopelessly doomed. Worse, it also shows just what sort of strange behavior people will accept from their leaders in a monarchy, who they believe were actually chosen by God to be that leader, and just how strangely it reinforces the divinity of bad behavior. The lines from Holy Grail are meant to be funny, but Madness shows us that in reality, those lines belie actual madness.
To be fair, worse than having a King running the country is taking all the power away from a King and Queen and still insist on having them for no other reason than as a sideshow. They’re about as useless as tits on a boar.
What’s to Like?
As with most films in this series, the thing lives or dies on the acting of the ensemble. Or, on the acting of the star and the ensemble around him. The same is true here.
Hawthorne is obviously the real show – he plays the title character and does so with all madness, mania, and verve you’d expect. Better, he doesn’t just make the showy role showy – he actually brings a bit of subtlety to it. Better still, it’s through his performance that we come to understand just how unnatural royalty is, and how it makes any of your decisions, no matter how bizarre, acceptable – after all, if you’re supposed to be chosen by God then surely everything you do is inherently divine. Anyway, while Hawthorne lost Best Actor to Tom Hanks, that doesn’t mean he’s unworthy of the award. Indeed, if he’d won it instead of Hanks, you wouldn’t have heard any griping about it from me.
Mirren was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It’s not that she’s bad – she never is – it’s just she has nothing to do. Her role is such a non-entity that I wonder why Mirren was hired for it at all. I mean, if you’re going to hire Mirren, you let her Mirren-it-up. You make her sexy, you let her be big, you let her go for it. What you don’t do is force her to basically play a tear-stained cold-fish, which is about all she registers as here.
If we’re honest, the unsung hero of the film is Rupert Everett as the scheming Prince. Given the career he’s carved out since then it should not be a shock he gave a good performance here. Anyway, as the Prince he’s a delightfully slimy, imperious asshole. He’s so lizard-like, and insinuating, and superior, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t actually snivel or twirl a moustache. To put it another way – Everett gives good villainy.
What’s Not To Like?
Like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Madness of King George has a third act problem. Specifically, once the plot was resolved – in TLOTR: TROTK, it’s throwing the ring in Mt. Doom, here it’s the King coming to his senses – the film lumbers on for a while after it should already be over. As a writer, and filmgoer, I’m a firm believer that when the plot is resolved, and the climax occurs, the film/book/whatever should come to an end. It shouldn’t go on to show us the morning after, and the morning after that, and what they might have had for lunch, and oh, what about…
When the King regains his senses, and reclaims the government, the movie plays it as triumph. Like, “Yay! You thwarted the evil prince! Victory!” Except…
Except, if the natural course of things occur – the King dies before his son – that son will one day graduate from Prince to King, stopped only by the dead King returning to life to snatch the crown away. But, since that ability hasn’t yet been proven to exist, this outcome is unlikely.
So, in that sense, the victory at the end of this film is decidedly hollow and only pushes back the inevitable. And in the end, as long as the Prince outlives his father, he will have the last laugh.
Good Enough To Be Nominated (Formerly Better than Best?)
Given this entry isn’t really weighing a Best Picture loser against the winner as in previous posts and deciding if it was good enough to win – because Madness wasn’t a Best Picture nominee at all – asking the question Better Than Best? doesn’t feel right right. The better question is this: was this movie good enough to be nominated for Best Picture in the first place?
If I had to rank the nominees of 1994, they’d go like this:
Fiction, Shawshank, Gump, Weddings, and Quiz Show a distant fifth. Why a distant fifth? Because I tried a re-watch of Quiz Show in the past year and, even though I remembered it being pretty good the first time around, the 20+ years that passed since that viewing made it boring and weak. A confession – I could not finish the re-watch.
Under those circumstances, Madness is definitely good enough to be nominated for Best Picture. And given it’s 110 minutes long, compared to 133 for Quiz Show – which is enough to rejoice over on its own – it’s not even a close call. Congratulations The Madness of King George, you’re good enough to be a proper Also-Ran.
The opening shot of the film was of a door in some castle in England, carved up by centuries of impudent hands who wanted to leave their names behind for the ages. As this film takes place in 1788, it was amusing to notice the great big anachronistic “1862” carved pretty much dead-center of the door.
See the rest of the Also Rans Project here.
 It added $347 million from foreign markets.
 A wise choice after his sadistic turn in Schindler’s List.
 To be fair, our own system of picking a leader via the Electoral College is also bullshit, but given how tough the Constitution is to change, it’s the one we’re stuck with.