David Chandler’s Representing the Mad King: George III in the Cinema, is an in-depth examination of two cinematic portrayals of King George II, commonly known as the Mad King, in Beau Brummel (1954) and The Madness of King George (1994). Chandler considers the importance of early representations of the Mad King, as well as analyzing the Kings illness itself, and explains the importance each film had to explaining events in its specific era. In both the 1950s and the 1990s, the story of mad King George and his eldest son could hold up a revealing mirror to the times.
Chandler outlines the impact that the Mad Kings illness and recovery had on Great Britain in three areas: the political consequences, a change in attitude towards the monarchy, and an understanding of the mental illness. Chandler discusses the Regency Crisis of 1788-89, where the Mad Kings health reached a point where he seemed unfit to rule. George III’s son, the Prince of Wales, was estranged from the king, and ad allied himself with a number of opposing political figures.
If the Prince of Wales was appointed Regent, there would undoubtedly be a severe change in government, which was unpopular with the people. The earlier film, Beau Brummel, depicts George III as completely mad. The kings’ eldest son, the Prince of Wales, is the protagonist of the film. George III mistreats the prince in his fits of rage and insanity. The story is loosely written around a love story where the Prince’s lover was unfit for him to marry.
Chandler suggests that this representation of George III in part may have stemmed from the lack of medical knowledge at the time; during the time that Beau Brummel was written, the kings illness was believed to be a cause of psychological issues, although we now understand that most likely the Mad King suffered from porphyria, a physical illness that attacks the nervous system. The plot of Beau Brummel was clearly written so that the audience was on the side of the prince. This mirrors the case of Edward VIII, who in 1936 abdicated when British government disagreed with his marriage to an American divorcee.
The newer film, Madness of George III, the author depicts the Mad King as on the cusp between reality and insanity. In this film the Prince of Wales is more of a villain, and the Mad King is depicted as a figure of honor. When George III miraculously recovered from his deranged state, there was a general reaction of sympathy from the British people, a major landmark in British history because it supported the concept of monarchy. In 1992, the Queen received widespread sympathy from the British people for exemplifying some of the same values that the Mad King did in the 1994 representation in Madness of George III.
Chandlers essay is the product of meticulous research. He provides an extremely detailed examination of each film with interesting facts to keep the reader’s attention. He backs up his claims with historical examples and a fair analysis of each film. He thoroughly explains all of his points and uses clear language to do so. The layout of the essay can be confusing. When Chandler explains his points he makes a lot of sense, unfortunately he doesn’t stay on topic and the essay has the tendency to go off on tangents, leaving the reader feeling a bit lost.