Royal mourning, Victorian-style

Category: Mrs. Brown Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: September 5, 1997 | Publication: The Irish Times | Author: reviewers
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"Mrs Brown" (12) Screen at D'Olier Street, Forum, Omniplex, Ormonde, UCI, Virgin, Dublin There is a morbid topicality about today's release of John Madden's moving, beautifully acted film, Mrs Brown. It is set 100 years ago, and not only does it open with a haughty British royal family deep in mourning after the death of a prince, it later depicts Victorian paparazzi furtively observing the queen and her male companion on a private picnic.

Madden's intimate, low-key film details the close bond formed between the widowed Queen Victoria and her late husband's devoted Scottish servant, the hunting guide, John Brown. As the film opens, it is 1864 and the queen remains disconsolate in her third year of official mourning. Nobody - none of her nine children, loyal staff and admiring public - can lift her depression until John Brown is summoned to her estate on the Isle of Wight where his brother, Archie, is a member of the household staff. "I speak as I find," John Brown declares bluntly, to which Archie replies, "Not down south you don't". But he does, and John's directness extends to the queen herself - "Lift your foot, woman," he orders as he helps her on to her horse. Victoria seems to surprise herself when his gregarious - and at the same time, genuinely caring - approach thaws her out and wins her over, leading to some spirited verbal sparring between the two of them.

The benign influence John Brown gradually exerts over Victoria eventually incurs resentment in her own household, especially from the ambitious and charmless Prince of Wales - and in official quarters, resulting in personal and physical attacks on Brown and in Victoria being described privately by the snide, Machiavellian prime minister, Disraeli, as "Mrs Brown".

Working from an eloquent original screenplay by Jeremy Brock, director John Madden, a veteran of television and the theatre, deftly draws a warm and touching picture of an unlikely friendship. And he elicits luminous performances from the potentially unlikely pairing of his film's leading actors - a radiant and subtle Judi Dench in, incredibly, her first major film role, as Victoria, and the comedian, Billy Connolly, in a revelatory performance as John Brown. The fine supporting cast includes Anthony Sher as Disraeli, Gerard Butler as Archie, and Geoffrey Palmer as the queen's bureaucratic private secretary, Henry Ponsonby. Michael Dwyer