Mrs Brown (PG)

Directed by John Madden
Starring Judi Dench, Billy Connolly

A BBC film project that has become an unexpected hit, especially in America, this is the story of Queen Victoria(Dench), who three years after the death of her husband, is still in deep mourning. Arriving on the scene is Scottish favourite of Prince Albert's, John Brown(Connolly) who refuses to mince words around the austere queen. His no nonsense attitude is enough to bring the queen around, and she begins to come to life once more. However, many are unhappy about the influence Brown has over the queen, including her children and Prime Minister Disraeli Anthony Sher.
Not that much happens in this film, but is the sort of film we Brits do very well; a facinating portrait of a real relationship, a sort of romance but not in any way sexual, even if the title Mrs Brown was used by some for the queen. I have no idea how much of it is true or based on actual incident, but there is a curious jerkiness to the unfolding of events. Brown has barely arrived before making an impact on the queen. She has only been out riding about once or twice before we see her rejuvenation. Very soon after the royal family's arrival back at Balmoral, Brown is taking the queen to visit very humble tenants and getting her to lay the table. Then later we have little progress or event in the relationship as those little cards with the dates keep flashing up as the years pass. Maybe this is a true reflection of the events but it makes the film a little uneven.
Judi Dench is wonderful- as expected, but just as good is comedian Billy Connolly, a far more unexpected success. Dench is an excellent actress and portrays the queen's early grief very touchingly. Throughout she is fully convincing and makes the queen a real, if rather sad figure. Connolly gets to play the blunt Scotsman for most of the film- rather like his stage persona but without the gags. However, you never are watching for the giggles as he really is very good indeed, and makes you forget the over the top screeching comedian. At times it is a little hard to understand his motives, as he gives his all for his queen in a most unlikely display of loyalty from an outspoken Scot. He has only the queen's safety and happiness and alcohol in his life, and gets little happiness of his own it seems.
Anthony Sher is a fine actor but his portrayal of Disraeli is not as successful, as he plays it so unnaturally. Sher looks like he is in a comedy sketch, and is not helped by what looks like a joke beard. He is trying to play machiavellian, but ends up looking merely comical. The rest of the supporting cast are fine, and it is lovingly filmed, showing Scotland's bleakness at its most beautiful.
Slightly slow moving and at times showing its made for TV roots, this film works largely thanks to two strong central performances from Dench and Connolly. 7/10

September 1997

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