Mrs Brown (also known as Her Majesty, Mrs Brown) was a British award-winning film starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly and was the first major film to feature Queen Victoria since Victoria the Great in 1937.
The film was originally made for television but it was given a theatrical release instead and went on to make $13 million worldwide. Mrs Brown premiered at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival before its general release on 5 September 1997 and Dench went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Dench was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.
Billy Connolly was also nominated the for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role and the BAFTA Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, although he won neither. The film’s costume designer, Deirdre Clancy, won the BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design.
The plot focuses on the relationship that developed between Queen Victoria and her Scottish gillie, John Brown, who had been a trusted servant to Prince Albert. After Albert’s death in 1861, the Queen had gone into such a deep state of mourning, she had withdrawn from public life and it was hoped Brown could bring her out of it. Victoria is initially slow to respond to Brown’s overtures but he slowly coaxes her out of her grief by refusing to allow her to wallow in it. As Brown’s influence grows, the royal family and the Queen’s senior staff become increasingly concerned about the nature of their relationship and the favour in which the Queen regards him.
As Victoria insists on staying out of the public eye, Prime Minister Disraeli becomes increasingly concerned by the growth of republicanism in Britain and uses Brown’s influence over the Queen to persuade her to return to her duties. However, Victoria sees Brown’s interference as a betrayal and their relationship is permanently damaged. Victoria finally returns to London when Bertie becomes seriously ill and his subsequent recovery encourages her to hold a service of thanks. When Victoria embraces her public duties once more, Brown thwarts an assassination attempt and is awarded the Devoted Service Medal. Brown eventually fades into the background of Victoria’s life but he becomes increasingly paranoid about her safety and sees assassins around every corner. When Brown becomes seriously ill with pneumonia, Victoria visits him on his deathbed full of regret over their estrangement. After Brown’s death, his diaries are found and destroyed with the implication the contents were too scandalous to be made public.
The film never portrays the relationship between Victoria and Brown as sexual or even romantic but a loving friendship which is the exact right tone. The scenes between Dench and Connolly are wonderful, particularly those where Brown is being at his most irreverent, and it is not hard to imagine the fun the pair would have had during filming.
Wilton House, home of the 18th Earl and Countess of Pembroke, was used for scenes representing Windsor Castle. The magnificent house in Wiltshire has been a filming location for many films and television shows over the years, and the exquisite Double Cube Room is instantly recognisable to fans of period drama. Duns Castle and Manderston, near Berwick upon Tweed, stood in for Balmoral Castle and Windsor Castle, while the Ardverikie Estate near Loch Laggan, and the waterfalls at River Pattack, were used for the outdoor Highland scenes. Other scenes were film in the Old Royal Naval College, Osborne House, Osterley Park House and Taymouth Castle.