April 6, 1929 – Nigel Hawthorne
Nigel Hawthorne was a sensitive and intelligent actor whose work captivated the British public during the 1980s when he appeared in the funny BBC television series Yes, Minister and its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister. His amazing performance in the film The Madness of King George (1994) brought him accolades and lots of attention, along with showing his talent for more dramatic roles. Hawthorne enjoyed an acting career that spanned more than 50 years, but he struggled for recognition for the first 30 years, until he appeared in that popular television show when he was more than 50 years old, and for which he won four BAFTA TV Awards.
He worked on stage in regional theatres and the West End from 1950 through the end of the 20th century, culminating with playing King Lear with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1999. He won seven BAFTA awards. He won a Tony Award playing C. S. Lewis in the 1990 production of Shadowlands, plus two Olivier Awards.
For over two decades Hawthorne shared his life with screenwriter Trevor Bentham. He was an intensely private person, but his gayness was no secret; he simply felt it would be bad manners to “embarrass” people by talking about it. He was very unhappy about being outed involuntarily in 1995 with publicity surrounding his Oscar nomination for the film version of The Madness Of King George, which was adapted from openly gay playwright Alan Bennett’s brilliant play, The Madness Of George III (1991). Hawthorn had already starred in both the British stage and Broadway productions of the play. Bennett had insisted that Hawthorne star in the Broadway staging, refusing the producers’ idea to cast an actor more familiar to Broadway audiences.
Hawthorne attended the Oscar ceremony with Bentham, who spoke disparagingly about Hawthorne’s outing by the press:
”We have never made a secret of it, and you news people haven’t been that bothered, because he is not Tom Cruise, and he is not Robert Redford. He is a dear, sweet, kind man, hard-working and conscientious, and people respect that. We don’t go screaming around in leather trousers and go to gay bars. We are not interested in that, not remotely. We are two middle-aged people living totally ordinary, conservative, boring lives. We don’t party, we don’t riot, and we don’t have wild times. We are not those kind of people.”
The Madness Of King George seems especially relevant today. The film, directed by openly gay Nicholas Hytner, tells the true story of George III of Great Britain’s deteriorating mental health, and his equally declining relationship with his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, played by out actor Rupert Everett in a truly great performance. The film focuses on the period around the Regency Crisis of 1788–89. Modern medicine has suggested that the King’s symptoms were the result of acute intermittent porphyria a rare metabolic disorder, although this theory has been more vigorously challenged in our own age by a research project based at University of London, which concluded that George III did indeed suffer from mental illness after all.
Remember how our death-inducing president made the July 4th celebrations in Washington DC into a show of military might, even though the holiday has traditionally celebrated the courage of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a ragtag group of lawyers, farmers, and merchants who defied the most powerful empire in the world by producing a single sheet of paper containing a list of political grievances and a declaration of abstract philosophical principles. That document was powerful enough to give birth to a revolution, turn colonists into Americans, and inspire democratic movements around the world long after it was written.
Our Declaration of Independence has a long list of abuses committed by King George III and British officials in 1776. It is impossible not to see them as a ringing indictment of the current administration in 2020.
Here are a few biting passages:
“He [King George] has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”
Our founding fathers thought that abstract ideas mattered, that fact-based political discourse was not only possible but persuasive, and that a nation could be founded on the not yet fully realized ideal of human liberty. Thus, it is less a reflection on them than it is on us that the final line from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence sounds so radical, so naive, and so impossible today.
“To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”
That is just a few of the 28 specific grievances about George III listed in the Declaration of Independence, but the current administration seems determined to violate the general spirit of the document. POTUS’s policies, including his Muslim ban and family separation policy, his own nativist, racist, and sexist statements, stand in opposition to the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that ”all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In the 18th century, the American colonies wanted to attract immigrants because of the shortage of labor and the desire to expand west. George III worried that more migrants from other countries would weaken colonial dependence on Great Britain, further shifting the balance of political power to the colonial legislatures. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.
The colonies wanted rapid naturalization of immigrants through a process that often took less than a year, enabling immigrants to more quickly and legally own land. The British naturalization system took seven years, and all but prohibited naturalization of foreign-born Catholics. Protestant suspicion of Catholics as dangerous played an important role in the new British restrictions on colonial efforts to extend citizenship to immigrants.
One of the reasons why the impeached president opposes immigration is the fear that newcomers and asylum seekers will support Democrats rather than Republicans.
Last year, the moldy pumpkin president pardoned former Lt. Michael Behenna for murdering a prisoner of war and has promised more pardons for other alleged war criminals. Doing this signals that members of the military service are held to a lower legal standard than civilians and that murder will be tolerated by the commander-in-chief. George III demanded that all military arrests be brought to trial in England rather than the colonies so he could guide the outcome and protect soldiers who were willing to bend the rules.
George III’s reign was remarkable for having ”lost” the American colonies and for the king’s suffering from mental illness at intermittent stages.
New studies show that the language used in thousands of George III’s handwritten letters revealed that when the king was having a mental illness episode, his sentences were significantly longer than when he rambled on about imaginary enemies. He repeated himself often, while his vocabulary contained more vulgarities, a pattern seen in the writing and speech of modern-era patients in the manic phase of a psychiatric illness.
The Madness Of King George won the BAFTA Award in 1995 Best Film and Best Actor for Hawthorne, and Hawthorne was nominated for an Oscar, with additional Oscars for Helen Mirren (as Queen Charlotte) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Mirren won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress and Hytner was nominated for the Palme d’Or. The film and Hawthorne are a triumph. Shockingly, Hawthorne lost the Oscar to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump.
Hawthorne and Hynter worked again, this time on a gay-themed project The Object Of My Affection (1998). It’s a gently subversive comedy of modern manners with a smart screenplay by playwright Wendy Wasserstein. A young woman (Jennifer Aniston) falls in love with her gay male roommate (Paul Rudd). It serves as satire of upper-middle class New Yorkers and their insufferably liberal ways. Hawthorne poignantly plays a lonely sugar-daddy, who delivers the film’s most crucial line, when he gives Aniston the pragmatic advice that could have saved him from his own unrequited love:
“Don’t fix your life so that you’re left alone right when you come to the middle of it.”
Hawthorne wrote openly about being gay in his memoir, Straight Face (2003), published two years after his passing. Hawthorne was knighted in 1999. He left this world in 2001, taken by a heart attack while battling cancer at 72 years old.