Starring: Judi Dench, Billy Connelly, Geoffrey Palmer, Antony Sher, Gerard Butler
Rated PG for A Beating, Language and Brief Nudity
"Mrs. Brown" is a buddy movie for the Merchant/Ivory crowd. As much as I liked "The Remains of the Day," I don't mean that as a compliment. When people call art house movies stuffy and dull, they're thinking of movies like "Mrs. Brown." This movie is so badly written and awkwardly
constructed that had it not been for the valiant, if futile, efforts of it's leads, it would have been legitimately unwatchable. As it is, it's a well-acted mess.
The husband of Queen Victoria (Dench) has died. Their marriage was one of the happiest in the history of the monarchy, and she is so depressed that she has taken herself into seclusion into the Scottish Highlands. John Brown (Connelly), who was with her husband during his final days, is brought in to bring her out of her depression. Although they don't see eye to eye at first, a deep bond grows between them. But the fragile Queen Victoria is neglecting her duties, which is causing turmoil in Parliament. Her relationship with Brown is also subject to scandal...
Key to any movie like this is growth. The director has to show a growing connection between the characters, and the actors have to sell it. Neither happens in "Mrs. Brown." The problem is two-fold: director John Madden (not the sportscaster...the guy who would go on to direct the grossly overrated "Shakespeare in Love") tells us what happens, but not how. Meaning, there are no scenes of any growth between them. One minute they're polar opposites, then there's a title card for some time later, and they're inseparable. That's how not to do this sort of thing. I think that Madden is relying on the ability and chemistry of Dench and Connelly, both of which they have, but he keeps them so tightened up and the cinematography (which includes some beautiful shots of the Highlands) is so cold that it's impossible to feel anything for them.
The less said about the subplot about Benjamin Disraeli (Sher) and others trying to get Mrs. Brown, as she's called at times, to return to London, the better. To call it a mess would be far too charitable. It's a disaster. Little of it makes any sense, and even less is developed. I didn't know what to make of Disraeli's character, and everyone's sudden hostility towards John Brown comes across as being a plot device. Clearly, the script was in need of heavy re-writes.
At least the acting by the two leads is great. Judi Dench is very good as Mrs. Brown. It's not her best performance (that would go to her playing the title character in "Mrs. Henderson Presents"), but it's the one that got her noticed despite the fact that she was in her 60s at the time (according to her, she told Harvey Weinstein, who saved it from a made-for-TV fate, that she got a tattoo of his name on her rear end. It wasn't true, but she had someone in the make up department whip up something, which she said he has never forgotten). Billy Connelly, famous for his stand-up comedy, is also in fine form, but his role, like the rest of the script, is underwritten. He does what he can, and that's surprisingly a lot (it's clear that he can handle more dramatic roles).
This is a rare miss for Miramax, but because it launched Judi Dench into Hollywood superstardom, I'll have to forgive it a little bit.