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[It is not hard to see why cinema, in its early days, was looked down on by those dedicated to the stage as well as by cultural highbrows in general. That attitude, which held on at least throughout the first half of the twentieth century, is exemplified in the passage below from the expatriate Russian theatre director and designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky (18821954). In his case it shows more than disdain for movies, it shows contempt:

The commercial cinema is an entertainment or pastime for illiterate slaves of an up-to-date ‘business civilisation’ founded on Mammon. The sham naturalism, the treacly romanticism, the sentimentality on the one hand with its psychological complement—brutality—on the other, the tinned literature and language and music of the cinema have had their big share in the debasement of the idealistic significance of theatrical performances and workmanship.

By the 1960s, however, the art of film-making was nearing the technical perfection that we have come to expect, and compared with which most of the films from the first fifty years of cinema look vaguely unreal and often corny. Whether modern films are really as true to life as we sometimes believe or are merely expert in creating an illusion of realism, the popular success of cinema over live theatre is certainly due in part to the fact that all kinds of surreal dramatic effects can be produced in a film that cannot be produced by actors on stage—or, at least, not without great difficulty. In the final twenty minutes of the highly literate 1994 film, The Madness of King George, (adapted from Alan Bennett’s 1991 play of the same name) we see modern cinematic expertise in all its splendour. If you take the trouble to watch the credits, it will become clear just how numerous and varied are the specialists required to create all those marvellous dramatic effects.

While very well produced, The Madness of King George is not particularly enjoyable to watch in its entirety, dealing as it does with the unpleasant matter of mental illness, the indignities and loss of inhibitions which it occasions, and the primitive methods that late 18th century medicine used to treat it. However, in the last twenty minutes, when the king is regaining his wits and dealing with the aftermath of his illness, many timeless themes arise: sex, family, forgiveness, anger, frustration, and resentment. To see the king reading King Lear in the garden with his attendants is particularly evocative.

To increase one’s appreciation of this video clip, it should be known that the film deals historically with the Regency Crisis; that King George was strongly attracted to Lady Pembroke (Elizabeth), one of the queen’s Ladies of the Bedchamber; that she had to resist his sexual advances during his bouts of insanity; and that the pretty woman in the crowd at the very end of the film was the Catholic mistress of the king’s eldest son, also George, who had taken advantage of his father’s illness to marry her without his father’s consent. The seduction of Greville by Lady Pembroke in order for the queen and her supporters to gain access to her husband during his medical treatment may have been the invention of the playwright, who also wrote the screenplay.]

King George Regains his Wits


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