Who better to guide us through this period of self-isolated baking than Alan Bennett?
Adapted from his play with the same star (Nigel Hawthorne) and director (regular collaborator Nicholas Hytner), Bennett’s telling of the 1788 Regency Crisis is a potent mix of blistering comedy and bewildering history. Like the best period pieces it acts as modern commentary, skewering Prince Charles (“To be Prince of Wales is not a position; it is a predicament”) and Ronald Reagan (“God rot all royals; give us the wisdom of America”) with Bennett’s trademark wit and an irony only intensified in the Trump era; turns out it’s easier to depose a mad king than a mad president.
Hytner makes brilliant use of palatial spaces, the empty halls and crowded courts echoing George III’s fevered mind. The juxtaposition of verisimilitude and irreverence feels like Blackadder the Third meets The Favourite, with George Fenton’s adaptions of Handel mockingly underscoring scenes of braying toffs and gibbering gentry. Hawthorne (Yes Minster, Demolition Man) shows us the man behind the madness, while the ensemble of British acting talent includes Helen Mirren as the queen (again), Rupert Everett as the prince (again) and Ian Holm as the physician tasked with restoring king solomon’s marbles.
Scatological and psychological; historical and hysterical, The Madness of King George is a timeless insight into what happens when those ordained to lead lose what little sense they had in the first place.