Queen Victoria (Dench) is deeply depressed after the death of her husband. Her servant Brown (Connolly) adores her, and through caress and admiration brings her back to life. However, their that relationship creates scandalous situation which puts the monarchy on the brink of crisis...
It's becoming increasingly apparent that the stand-up microphone is a surprisingly useful tool with which to prise open a backdoor into the movies. A big screen Eddie Izzard was in The Avengers, while Lee Evans starred in The Fifth Element. And now Billy Connolly tackles a leading role as Queen Vic's horse-wrangling Highlander in a film that's a good deal more gutsy and compelling than you'd think.
Period cossies, historical story and earthy British production do not always make for scintillating entertainment. But this is a different matter altogether. It's more than two years since Prince Albert popped off, but Dench's starchy monarch is still in the depths of depression and unmoved by public obligations. In the desperate hope that a breath of fresh air may dispel her gloom and thereby quell republican ambition, John Brown (Connolly) is summoned from Balmoral with the Queen's nag.
What follows, however, is the last thing her staid Private Secretary (Palmer) had in mind, as the Scot develops a close and exclusive relationship with HRH, and clamours for Royal abolition are replaced by rumours of a scandalous affair. Which the film sees fit to neither confirm nor deny, and in striking this delicate balance, makes its impact.
Leading a host of strong, mature performances - other notables being Palmer and Anthony Sher's oily Disraeli - Connolly's brusque, straight-talking, stern loyalty and beardy compassion gradually wears down tangible walls of grief around Dench's incredibly convincing Victoria, and before you know it, you're caught up in a difficult but touching friendship, and enjoying a history lesson more than you ever thought possible.
Before you know it, you're caught up in a difficult but touching friendship, and enjoying a history lesson more than you ever thought possible.
Reviewed by Darren Bignell