QUEEN VICTORIA, THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL WOMAN. JOHN BROWN, A SIMPLE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDER. THEIR EXTRAORDINARY FRIENDSHIP TRANSFORMED AN EMPIRE.
While mourning the loss of her husband in the 1860s, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) spends time with a commoner (Billy Connolly) who works for her, but their friendship is frowned upon. Director John Madden’s film is not a predictable love story, but a clearheaded portrait of two adults where at least one of them remains very unpredictable and unreliable, to the partner as well as the audience. Connolly, at the time mostly known as a standup comedian, is magnificent as the very proud John Brown and so is Dench as a woman who was constantly surrounded by men who fussed over the monarchy. Very interesting and meticulously made, although perhaps a tad detached.
1997-Britain-U.S.-Ireland. 103 min. Color. Produced by Sarah Curtis. Directed by John Madden. Screenplay: Jeremy Brock. Costume Design: Deirdre Clancy. Cast: Judi Dench (Victoria), Billy Connolly (John Brown), Geoffrey Palmer (Sir Henry Ponsonby), Antony Sher, Gerard Butler, Richard Pasco.
Trivia: The film was originally conceived in the 1960s with the intention of casting Sean Connery as John Brown. Dench also played Victoria in Victoria & Abdul (2017).
BAFTA: Best Actress (Dench), Costume Design. Golden Globe: Best Actress (Dench).
Last word: “I found the story incredibly interesting. We live in an age when people try to say what they feel, but back then, they didn’t. So you have this story of a tender friendship of mutual need that develops in an intensely ritualized world in which people behave not according to their feelings but according to the rules of structure. Whatever Victoria said was the way it had to be – if she had even a whim, people would immediately conform to it – and the bizarre existence that followed from the etiquette and rituals of power rendered her completely remote from any true intimacy.” (Madden, PBS)