"Mrs Brown" is a rather stately and mannered period drama that depends strongly on the interplay between its two charismatic leads to succeed in captivating its audience. Judi Dench's glacial, reserved demeanour contrasts beautifully with Billy Connolly's natural, rebellious exuberance, and their resultant spark of chemistry is undeniable. Judi Dench picked up a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for her performance, whereas Billy Connolly established himself as one of the most charismatic and convincing Scottish actors of recent times.
The grieving Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) remains inconsolable after the death of her beloved Prince Albert, unable to carry out the public duties expected of her. She cannot even bring herself to attend the State Opening of Parliament. Her public popularity is waning rapidly, and a republican movement develops in Parliament to abolish the Monarchy, spearheaded by a superbly unctuous cameo from Antony Sher as the Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
In desperation, Sir Henry Ponsonby, the Queen's Secretary (a jowly Geoffrey Palmer), summons John Brown (Billy Connolly) from Balmoral in an effort to rouse Victoria from her sorrow. Brown is a maverick Highlander with little respect for the English or their manners. He quickly becomes the Queen's most intimate and loyal friend, despite the huge social gulf that separates them. But people begin to talk, and the Queen is sarcastically renamed 'Mrs Brown'.
"Mrs Brown" is a hugely enjoyable film, Jeremy Brock's witty script and John Madden's exciting direction giving what would otherwise have been an all-too-stately period drama a passionate heart at its centre. The film is an entertaining history lesson that wisely leaves the true nature of their relationship open to interpretation.
"Mrs Brown" is on BBC2, 9.00pm, Saturday 30th August 2003.
Read a review of the DVD.