MPAA rating (or equivalent): PG
Mrs. Brown is the poignant story of the re-entry into life of the grieving Queen Victoria (played with dignity and simplicity by well-known British theater actress Judi Dench) after the death in 1861 of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. Inconsolable for the first several years after his death, the Queen's refusal to return to public life was becoming a matter of political concern which, in the volatile atmosphere of the latter 19th Century, could have threatened the monarchy. She was becoming known as the Widow of Windsor.
Into this milieu comes Scottish horseman John Brown, played by Billy Connolly of former American sitcom fame, a no-nonsense member of the castle staff who dares to take some initiative to bring the Queen back among the living. Though respectful and obedient, he pushes full bore the tradition that servants in the royal palace Balmoral, in Scotland, were freer and less formal than their British counterparts.
The Queen takes a liking to Brown, who was also apparently a favorite of her late husband, choosing to make her first outing after Albert's death a visit to a commoner couple she and Brown have both previously been acquainted with, the Grants. There, after dinner, she is regaled by Brown's storytelling and in one of the movie's ironically touching moments, she laughs heartily for the first time in years. Her other retainers are fussily concerned when she and Brown return to the palace late at night, but she lets them know who's queen, itself a therapeutic gesture.
Soon Brown is her best friend, protecting her from spying tabloid reporters who with the help of republican (that is, anti-monarchy) partisans in Parliament, have caught wind of the "scandalous relationship" the mourning widow has developed with a commoner. There was never any scandal, but of course the public's interest in the Queen was such that any news was played for every angle. So heavily did Victoria rely on Brown for a time that even her sympathetic Prime Minister, Disraeli, jokingly referred to her as "Mrs. Brown."
Billed as a romance, the romance here is the very special "romance" some are privileged to know in friendship. There was never any intent, so far as we are given to see here, on the part of either the Queen or her servant, of the relationship moving beyond that. Unlike today's royals, Victoria was willing to live by the principles her empire was established upon. We might wish, however, that this was played a little more effectivelyjust what did make Queen Victoria tick? We get no real insight beyond the stoicism portrayed in the acting but without words.
This is a good movie made, we are told, because the producers wanted to bring another Scottish hero to public view and felt that, after Braveheart, John Brown was next in line. Both Dench and Connolly are excellent; this is likely to make the short list at Oscar nomination time.
Photo © by the film's distributor
© 1997, Jon Kennedy