Mrs. Brown - * * *

Mrs. Brown is an enjoyable and humorous period piece focusing on the out of the ordinary friendship between Queen Victoria and a Scottish highlander.

After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) retreated from public life into a prolonged depression, from which no one could lift her. As a last ditch effort, Prince Albert’s favorite horsegroom John Brown (Billy Connolly) is summoned to the court, in the hopes that perhaps riding might cheer up Queen Victoria.

John Brown’s Scottish bluntness and insubordination provide a stir in the court. He’s a man who doesn’t know his place, talking frankly to the queen, and disobeying orders from the staff. But, unlike anyone else, his presence seems to bring joy back to the queen, and their friendship provides ample court gossip (hence the title, referring to the queen).

Judi Dench does a superb job with the melancholy queen. She’s appropriately regal and commanding, yet there’s a side of her which, at first, seems closed or shut off. Yet, when John Brown reawakens her buried happiness, she beams brighter than you thought possible.

Billy Connolly does a decent job as the Queen’s faithful servant and friend. However, there are times when he seems out of his league. You never get the sense that this is a man who could wreak such havoc among the natural order of the court. The force of his personality just isn’t there. He’s not bad in the role, but you get a feeling that a stronger actor could have conveyed more.

The two of them are helped out by a strong supporting cast. Anthony Sher as the Prime Minister Disraeli particularly shines. His manipulations and power plays are subtle and agile. He’s a delight to watch.

John Madden’s direction is adequate. The film meanders at times, but never too far. He does a good job creating the atmosphere of court intrigue, but is less successful at creating a meaningful sense of time and place.

The overall strong cast, however, wins in the end, making Mrs. Brown an enjoyable foray into 19th century political intrigue, and a study of the healing power of friendship.

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