Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 


It's the mid-1800's and Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) has gone into a period of "ferocious introspection" and grief over the death of her husband, Prince Albert. The royal household know not what to do, but are under strict orders not to speak above a whisper. Queen Victoria’s Personal Secretary, Henry Ponsonby (Geoffrey Palmer), feels that fresh air and gentle exercise might do the queen some good, and summons, John Brown (Billy Connolly) from Balmoral, to take the Queen on pony rides. Brown is less solicitous than the Court is used to and is regarded with suspicion, but he has looked after the Royal stables in Albert’s time as a favoured employee, and thus enjoys some latitude. Soon he's giving orders and not taking them, even to the Queen. His bluntness is underscored by a deepening loyalty for his Queen that helps to break her depression, and they forge a rare friendship. But many complain about and ridicule the arrangement. Among those are Victoria's son, the Prince of Wales (David Westhead), the local press, and Prime Minister Disraeli (Antony Sher) who seeks to use the Queen's resurgence in public life to his political advantage. Eventually, people refer to the Queen as Mrs. Brown, and John pushes himself to the limit trying to defend the Queen's life and reputation. As they deal with the growing unpopularity of John among the staff and public who wish for the Queen's return to public life, the two must figure out how to balance their friendship with their working relationship.

"This is one of those films that the Brits do so well. It gives a glimpse into the 19th century royal household, with its very starchy ‘upstairs, downstairs’ mentality of class distinction and protocol. Jeremy Brock’s screenplay weaves all the subtle nuances of the day into an engaging, heartfelt tale, describing the daily rituals right through to the restless political climate. As a piece of cinema, coloured by a gentle, subtle soundtrack, it is like a newborn baby - intricate, detailed and quite complete. Judi Dench is dazzling as Queen Victoria. Her craft and skill in delivering a hugely controlled performance which opens as a flower from a bud is a joy to watch. Billy Connolly is extraordinary as John Brown: he is totally captivating, a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobically stuffy palace driven by protocol, status and staid, small-minded people. His spontaneity, joie de vivre and obsessive, unselfish dedication to his queen are haunting: his complexity and charm fill the screen. As Paul says (below), Connolly is a revelation. He is one of these rare beasts who have the ability to bring with him his strong presence and renown, but skillfully in the mix, manages to detach himself from his persona and mould himself into the character. Apparently shot on a small budget in 30 days, in which the production moved location 13 times, the film offers the contrast of the primal, raw beauty of the Scottish Highlands with the lavish, richly furnished palace scenes. A little like the contrast between Queen Victoria and John Brown."
Louise Keller

"This film draws some fascinating parallels with the plight of British royalty in this age of media scrutiny, and given Australia's raging Republican debate, offers an interesting piece of information: even in the 1860s, the British labour party dared tout the possibility of dismantling the Monarchy, because this monarch not only insisted on her own seclusion, but on a friendship which crossed British class values. Mrs Brown, as Prime Minister Disraeli nicknamed Victoria, allowed herself to be manipulated by her friend, because he was the only one who refused to put her on a royal pedestal. It is a fine film, an intelligently realised drama that is both poignant and sardonically amusing, a compelling, fascinating and entertaining look not only at an unusual friendship but of the transformation of British society at the time. The performances add depth and resonance to a collage of intricate historical figures. Judi Dench is the perfect Victoria, introspective, deeply passionate, yet always regal. It's another astonishing characterisation from this fine actress. Billy Connolly is a true revelation here, unrecognisable in long flowing beard, intensely rich and deeply human as a seemingly ambitious man who begins to fall under Victoria's spell, not as a prospective lover (though this is alluded to) but as a man determined to protect his Queen from what he perceives as a dangerous, outside world. Special mention to the wonderful Antony Sher, whose portrayal of the witty yet cunning Disraeli is masterful. Beautifully shot on location in the Scottish Highlands, Her Majesty Mrs Brown is impeccably delineated drama: Americans please take note. It's a rich tale of monarchy, society and class, a detailed and deeply human film and one of the finest of the year."
Paul Fischer

"The story is remarkable for its humanity and suppressed emotions – an English Queen saved from the ravages of grief by a blokey but upright Scottish manservant – and the film is remarkable for it ability to convey all the complexity that drives it. Dench is at the height of her acting prowess here, showing us a Queen Victoria both remote and human, possessing some of the qualities that have stereotyped her but rejecting the notion she was stuffy and unsmiling. Far from it; but how well controlled. That, of course, is the English gift to civilisation and polite society: self control. But there is much more to this intelligently written film, a wide range of social observations, delivered with pointed but subtle editorial shaping, and superb cinematography. Connolly matches her performance in his own way, painting a surprisingly moving picture of Brown, and certainly flawed, but enormously likeable, admirable – and even a little pitiable. Excellent cinema."
Andrew L. Urban

Email this article

See Andrew L. Urban's exclusive interview with

See Paul Fischer's exclusive interview with



CAST: Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Geoffrey Palmer, Antony Sher, Gerard Butler, Richard Pasco, David Westhead, Bridget McConnel, Georgie Glen, Catherine O’Donnell

PRODUCER: Sarah Curtis

DIRECTOR: John Madden

SCRIPT: Jeremy Brock


EDITOR: Robin Sales

MUSIC/COMPOSER: Stephen Warbeck


RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes



AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 1997

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020