It’s 1864, and Queen Victoria (Judi Dench), still disconsolate over the death of her husband, Prince Albert, three years earlier, has plunged into a monumental funk. She won’t go out in public, won’t engage her most intimate advisers, won’t rule. Only one man, it seems, can return her to her senses: John Brown (Billy Connolly), the royal family’s devoted Scottish hunting guide. He’s a lowly servant, but also tall, robust, and fearless. He takes guff from no one, not even the queen, and under his spell she begins to thaw. At least, that’s the idea behind John Madden’s elegant yet surprisingly remote royal-court drama, a variation on The Madness of King George (it might be called The Sadness of Queen Victoria). Judi Dench is certainly the right actress to play Victoria. She marshals an armada of frowns and winces, a frightening authority that makes the queen, in her bulky splendor, seem rooted to the earth. Billy Connolly’s performance is less successful. His John Brown is a petty tyrant — he’s like Sean Connery without the charisma — and so even as the film teases us with the underlying ”sensuality” of the relationship, it fails to portray it as a convincing human bond. Mrs. Brown is stately yet depressed, like Victoria. The film really perks up only when Antony Sher is on screen as Prime Minister Disraeli. He’s a schemer to relish — a Machiavellian imp. C+

Mrs. Brown
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