Culture > Movies

Film: Royal nonsense

Movies | But this enjoyable romance doesn't have to make sense

Issue: "Ashcroft 2000?," Oct. 11, 1997

Moviegoers curious about the Victorian Era might be drawn to the costume melodrama Mrs. Brown. The "true story," upon which the movie is based, goes like this: Three years after the death of husband Albert, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) was distraught, depressed, and exiled away from the public eye. Enter John Brown (Billy Connolly), a rowdy servant who comes from Balmoral to run the stables and winds up dictating to the entire household. His persistent outspokenness somehow wins Victoria's affections. He soon becomes her closest companion and confidant.

Eventually, Britain's elite decide Victoria must be saved from herself. Prime Minister Disraeli (Antony Sher) tries to rescue the monarchy and his own career by trying to talk Mr. Brown into backing away so Victoria can return to public life. Even as the Queen's long period of mourning and seclusion comes to an end, Mr. Brown remains loyal to his last breath.

Whether their relationship was in any way sexual is unknown; the film, to its credit, never speculates one way or another. Mrs. Brown emphasizes the gossip and scandal brought by the Queen's friendship to this commoner. The title of the film comes from a disparaging name used to insult the monarch because of her alleged affair.

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While the filmmakers obviously took some liberties with history, Mrs. Brown remains a fascinating character study. Unfortunately, the film doesn't show the chemistry that brought the two together. Mr. Brown refuses every social convention and barks orders at everyone-including the Prince of Wales. Why wasn't he tossed on the first train back to Scotland?

Of course, this beautifully photographed film doesn't have to make sense: It's made for romantics. And, even with its flaws, Mrs. Brown is still engrossing and more enjoyable than last year's overrated Best Picture, The English Patient.

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