Mrs Brown is a story school history books deemed too insignificant - - or too lacking in sound, historical fact - - to mention. Walking a path very successfully trod by The Madness Of King George, this period drama continues to mine the eccentricities of the Royal Family. This time, the theme is forbidden love - - to be precise, the supposedly "intimate" friendship that blossomed between the Empire's most famous monarch and a rough-and-tumble Scottish horseman. While it's never going to be a crowd-puller, Mrs Brown enjoyed much praise at the Cannes Film Festival, and it is an engrossing film: it'll delight the cineaste, and historians all over the country will, of course, be groaning.
The film's approach is straight from the school of BBC costume drama - - frilly frocks, wigs, fancy furniture and lovingly landscaped gardens. But it amounts to far more than run-of-the-mill historical fancy, thanks in part to Jeremy Brock's excellent script. Through intelligent handling, the debut screenwriter shows a keen understanding of what his characters were likely to say, instead of resorting to caricature.
Although the pairing of Judi Dench and Billy Connolly would at the outset appear as unlikely as the Victoria/Brown coupling itself, the chemistry between the two characters never fails to light up the screen. Crinkly-necked and po-faced, but with an undimmed twinkle in her eye, Dench brings stiff-backed yet starch-free authenticity to the role. This emotion contrasts pleasingly with Connolly's hot-headed retorts and relentless Highland charm. Admittedly, for the first 10 minutes you expect him to flick back his hair and shout ""Jobby!" at the top of his voice. But you soon forget the Big Yin's wilder stand-up outings: he is damn convincing as the hot-tempered Scot, and he's the hairy linchpin for some memorable olde worlde scenes (such as when the Queen visits her servant's home and gets pissed on one too many wee nips of whisky).
Of those thesping in the Dench and Connolly shadow, Anthony Sher stands out, turning in a compelling performance as the statesman Disraeli. Unlike Connolly, who seems to delight in playing a 19th century version of himself, Sher went to great method-style lengths to get his portrayal of Disraeli spot on - - he lived in the man's old house, read his books, even volunteered to don a ton of make-up to recreate Disraeli's pointed chin.
So it's a shame that, despite all this detail, Mrs Brown is let down somewhat by director Madden's lack of vision, and his unimaginative BBC-style way of doing things. Despite some fluid performances and a spot-on script, you can't escape the feeling that Mrs Brown is Sunday night television at its best - - the sort of programme that would work as a nine-part saga. Unless you harbour a burning desire for period fare, save your hard-earned cash and wait until Mrs B graces your TV in a couple of years.
Stern and stuffy, Queen Vic gets frisky with her Scottish servant. True? A pack of lies? It doesn't really matter, since Dench and Connolly deliver polished, endearing performances. Shame about the bland directing, though.