Volume 91, Issue 23

Tuesday, October 7, 1997

frosh and go


Not simply another royal affair

Looking for the latest dirt on the royal family? Can't get enough of those decadent aristocrats? Want to know the inside story?

Her Majesty Mrs. Brown tells the story of the scandalous relationship between the Queen of England (that would be Queen Victoria – the great great grandmother of today's Queen Elizabeth) and her Scottish servant, John Brown.

Secretly (or not so secretly) everyone wonders what it would be like to be rich and famous. Her Majesty Mrs. Brown is another one of those films which sets out to expose the human side of a public figure. In this case, the subject has been dead for close to 100 years, but the institution which she represents is a hot topic.

In 1861, after the death of her beloved husband, the Queen was inconsolable. When she started neglecting her public duties, her advisors began to worry. The Queen's popularity was sinking and in Parliament there was talk of doing away with the monarchy. Just when all seemed lost, John Brown was asked to come and cheer the Queen up. And cheer her up he did.

For a director making a film about the life of a real person, the first obstacles are the facts. Real life doesn't always accommodate itself neatly to the form of a two-hour movie. Director John Madden does an able, but unskillful job of guiding the viewer through the story. Transitions are often rough and while he keeps the emotional tenor of the film steady, it is really difficult following the chronological order.

The movie's greatest strengths are Judi Dench (Queen Victoria) and Billy Connolly (John Brown), the two leads. They give completely convincing performances of their complex characters.

Brown is a rough highlander who hunts and goes swimming in the nude. He is the complete antithesis to the Queen's household, where rules and protocol are sacred. At first, it doesn't seem like he will last very long, because he won't do what he's told. His brash manner soon endears him to the Queen, who sees in him something of her deceased husband.

While Her Majesty Mrs. Brown is a historical piece in the romantic mode of The Remains of the Day, or Sense and Sensibility, it is also designed to make parallels with the state of the contemporary monarchy. Not only does Queen Victoria have problems with the Irish, but her popularity is at an all-time low, her eldest son has problems and the tabloids continually spout malicious rumours about her. Does any of that sound familiar?

The Queen is caught in the midst of endless power struggles. Everybody from the politicians to the press want a piece of her. She can't even depend on the members of her own family. The only person she trusts is Brown. Unlike her advisors, he tells her what he thinks and takes care of her, therefore, she starts to depend on him.

How far the relationship actually went, of course, is the question. The tabloid journalists (who will insinuate anything) began calling her Majesty, Mrs. Brown.

If you don't have any sentimental attachment to the institution of the Monarchy, it would be difficult to get worked up about this film. Sympathy for the personal problems of an immensely-rich hereditary monarch is challenging for an audience member. Some may call this film poignant – an interesting exploration, but an unexceptional film.

–John McEwan

Playing at the New Yorker today at 9:30 p.m., tomorrow and Thursday at 7 p.m..

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997