18th-Century Quest: The Madness of King George (1994)


Are you anything like me? Did you see The Madness of King George (1994) back in the day, remember that it had great performances and costumes, but never quite get around to watching it again because it’s not the happiest of stories?


YOU’RE WELCOME. Oh my god. How AMAZINGLY good is this movie? Okay, no, it’s not a Jane Austen adaptation. There’s no meet-cute, no young love, no fresh young heroines pitter-pattering over manly yet dapper hunks.

But there is:

Rupert Everett as the BEST DAMN PRINNY EVER.

Rupert Everett as the BEST DAMN PRINNY EVER.

HAIR LIKE YOU WOULDN'T IMAGINE. Like, the perfect dead ringer hair on William Pitt the Younger.

HAIR LIKE YOU WOULDN’T IMAGINE. Like, the perfect dead ringer hair on William Pitt the Younger.

The stunning Amanda Donohue as the best dressed lady-in-waiting EVER. And Rupert Graves when he was young and cute! (He's now older and cute)

The stunning Amanda Donohue as the best dressed lady-in-waiting EVER. And Rupert Graves when he was young and cute! (He’s now older and cute.)

Sparkly, shiny, glittery court dresses.

Sparkly, shiny, glittery court dresses.

A truly heartfelt, emotional relationship.

A truly heartfelt, emotional relationship.


Ridiculous court protocol.


Foppy McFoppersons.


Dubious father/son relationships.


Men in uniform.



THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, Helen Mirren, 1994, (c) Samuel Goldwyn

Regal royals.


Semi-ditzy secret wives.


Inappropriate attentions.


REALLY good wigs on the ladies (except that they have obvious wigline, which was avoided for women).


Stiff upper lips.


Did I mention the stunning court dress?


Ladies in uniform.


I may have forgotten to mention THE COURT DRESS.

Wigs like NOBODY'S BUSINESS. Oh, and poo.

Wigs like NOBODY’S BUSINESS. Oh, and poo.

So yeah. My 18th-century quest — to see as many 18th-century costume movies as possible — forced me to rewatch this one, which I probably saw around when it came out and have put off rewatching since. Well, I’m an idiot, because while this IS a sad story, it’s also emotional, funny, and FABULOUSLY costumed.

Most people know the story of King George III, who went crazy at various points in his elder years and had to be replaced by the Prince Regent (later George IV). For a long time, researchers thought he suffered from porphyria, an obscure, inherited disease. Now, new research is showing that he was probably bipolar.

The film The Madness of King George was originally a stage play, then a movie. It won the Academy Award for art direction, and best actor (Nigel Hawthorne), actress (Helen Mirren), and adapted screenplay nominations. It was nominated for 14 BAFTAs and won three: best British film, actor (Hawthorne), and makeup/hair (Lisa Westcott). Helen Mirren won best actress at the Cannes film festival.

All of these awards were incredibly well deserved, but here’s the important thing: the costumes (designed by Sue Honeybourne and Mark Thompson) are STUNNING. And, while the story certainly many sad moments, they are totally offset by PRINNY and ridiculous doctors and political shenanigans and PRINNY.

WATCH IT AGAIN. Again, you’re welcome!



About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

4 Responses

  1. aelarsen

    Wonderful film! Too bad that its approach to George’s illness is so problematic, and it paints the Prince to be much worse than he was.

  2. Johnny

    The sad thing though it never received an Oscar nomination for its costume design but the Baftas saw fit to nominate it.

  3. mcmonacocoxnet

    Nobody, BUT NOBODY — does period dress like you British. I have an M.A. in Theatre with a specialty in costume design and construction from one of America’s great universities. One of our instructors was British.

    You British are such a breath of fresh air in a film/theatre world corrupted by American commercialism. Fourteenth century men’s haircuts is a case in point. No one but you wonderful British would stick to such woefully unattractive hair in films and theatre. I remember handsome film actor Tyrone Power in a film obviously shot in Britain.

    His haircut looked as if a bowl had been put on his head and the hair cut around it — marvelous authenticity but so satisfying to someone like me, with an historical viewpoint! I salute you!

    Thank you, than you, thank you!


Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.