Welcome to Gay Gold, our regular look at gay characters, storylines, and performers that were (or weren’t) embraced by the Oscars.
For an arthouse movie about a British monarch, The Madness of King George sure did cause a ruckus. The film is based on Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III, and shortly after its release in 1994, it was dogged by false rumors that its name had been changed out of fear that ignorant Americans would think it was a sequel to a movie they hadn’t seen. And then during Oscar season, Judge Lance Ito took time away from the OJ Simpson trial to let the filmmakers know how much he loved Helen Mirren’s performance as Queen Charlotte, the fiercely loyal wife of the titular and ailing king. That’s a lot of juicy coverage for a movie directed by the head of the National Theatre!
But the biggest hullabaloo came after Nigel Hawthorne got an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for playing George III in the midst of his infamous mental collapse. In an article titled “Acting Out,” The Advocate identified Hawthorne as a gay man and quoted him talking about his sexuality. Later, Hawthorne wrote in his autobiography that he felt his trust had been manipulated by the magazine and that he was not prepared for the scrutiny that came with a public outing. It’s tempting now to wonder how he could’ve possibly expected less from a gay magazine, but no matter: He lived openly from that point forward, making no secret of his relationship with Trevor Bentham, who was his partner for over 20 years.
Happily, being out didn’t slow Hawthorne’s career. He worked regularly until his death in 2001, and over 25 years later, his performance in The Madness of King George is still thrilling to watch. He never got another Oscar nomination, but the one he received is one of the most memorable of the 90s.