Many parallels can be drawn between "The Madness of King George" and the current royal family in England, and those parallels are not likely to be lost on a modern audience that seems almost as obsessed with the shenanigans of Charles and Di and Andrew and Fergie as it is with O.J.

King George III, who ruled England in the 18th century - as played quite wonderfully by Nigel Hawthorne (reprising his stage role) - is pompous, arrogant and thinks of himself as omniscient. And he still harbors a grudge against the Colonies - in fact, he seems unable to fully grasp the fact that they have become independent and now call themselves the United States.Worse, however, is his erratic behavior. He cavorts with the peasants, displaces the conductor of the court orchestra, runs through the corridors of the castle in his nightshirt, howls at the moon and even openly attacks his wife's young, attractive lady-in-waiting.

Is the king going mad? Well, it's hard to tell, since the royal family has always been a bit strange.

And if he is mad, who's going to tell him?

In a roundabout way, that falls to the king's heir, the Prince of Wales. The king isn't crazy about him anyway (if you'll pardon the phrase), so what does he care if his father is declared incompetent. Besides, it will just move the prince toward his inheritance a bit faster.

That is, more or less, the basic premise of "The Madness of King George." The comedy comes in the skewering of the ridiculous pomposity of England's royal lifestyle - no one is allowed to look at the king directly, he cannot be addressed unless he specifically requests it and he is viewed as all-seeing and all-knowing . . . a little less than the gods, perhaps.

The drama comes in George's gradual descent into apparent madness, as he behaves in a most irrational manner and as those who care for him become more and more distressed.

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And there are even elements of a political thriller, as factions line up on both sides of the king and a deadline begins to loom - if he isn't brought out of this state quickly, his power will be usurped by Parliament.

About halfway through the film, a doctor specializing in the mind is brought into the palace to try and "cure" the king. And when his methods prove to be not only unorthodox, but also quite unseemly for a king, things really get out of hand.

Alan Bennett, who adapted the screenplay from his popular play, and Nicholas Hytner, a stage director making his first film, have crafted a fascinating inside look at royalty. Funny, witty and with plenty of modern-day resonance, this is top-of-the-line British filmmaking.

The performances all the way around are perfect, with special kudos to Hawthorne. But equal to him are Helen Mirren as the queen (and mother of his 15 children), Ian Holm as a historical psychiatrist of sorts and Rupert Everett as his misguided son.

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