Mrs. Brown

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: John Madden

REVIEWED: 08-04-97

When reviewers praise a movie for being an antidote to current summer blockbusters, they're usually praising its taste, restraint, and quiet--which, unfortunately, are no more an assurance of entertainment than a bunch of stuff blowing up. That sort of Masterpiece Theatre lethargy is the least appealing aspect of Mrs. Brown, an otherwise engrossing drama sparked by two superb performances. It even shares a theme with its blockbuster neighbor Air Force One--the symbolic power wielded by a single leader, figurehead or not, and the chaos caused by that leader's absence.

Jeremy Brock's script concerns the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and the Scottish stablekeeper John Brown (Billy Connolly), whose closeness triggered a scandal amidst a crisis of confidence in the British monarchy during the 1860s. After the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861, the Queen withdrew into anguished seclusion; in 1864 the brusque, outspoken Brown was summoned to Windsor to care for the royal horses, even though the Queen had long since given up riding or any other activity. The movie depicts how Brown's stubborn devotion awakened Queen Victoria from her misery--just as liberal reformers in Parliament began crying for the abolition of the throne.

The production has been handsomely mounted, and "mounted" is as good a term as any to describe director John Madden's rigid filming, which emphasizes imposing backgrounds and fixed settings even more than Victorian formality dictates. Brock's script, however, provides juicy portraits of Parliamentary intrigue, upper-crust malice, and royal infighting. There's more than a suggestion of Falstaff in Connolly's lusty, boozing Brown, who is edged out of the Queen's favor as she regains her public standing; he becomes the sacrifice she must make to reclaim her mantle.

Two performances alone make Mrs. Brown worthwhile. Judi Dench does an uncanny job as Queen Victoria, endowing the stern matriarch of portraiture with tenderness, humanity, sorrow, and a formidable temper. Few performances have reconciled the public and private attributes of a ruler so well. And among a one-dimensional supporting cast, Antony Sher stands out like a beacon as the calculating Disraeli; his disarming slyness is a constant delight. To Mrs. Brown Sher and Dench bring some needed color.

--Jim Ridley

Full Length Reviews
Mrs. Brown
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Mrs. Brown

Other Films by John Madden
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