Monday, November 15, 2010

Mrs. Brown: From the Incomparable Ms. Dench

In continuing my theme of strong women roles (started last Friday), I've decided today to write about truly a magnificent film that many people (in America at least) probably haven't seen.  It stars one of my idols and is something not to miss.  Today I introduce to you "Mrs. Brown."

You might remember me mentioning something of this film previously, when I was raving about Dame Judi Dench.  Sometimes referred to as "Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown" and released in 1997, it tells the story of England's Queen Victoria (Dench) the years after the death of her husband Prince Albert, where she made an odd friendship with a rough, Scottish servant named John Brown (played by Billy Connolly).  Dench won the BAFTA for Best Actress, the Scottish BAFTA for Best Actress, and the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her beautiful, heart-wrenching performance as Queen Victoria, but, sadly, was robbed of the Oscar (her first ever Oscar nomination), which was awarded to Helen Hunt instead for "As Good as it Gets."  However, the very next year she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her 8-minute performance as England's other great monarch Queen Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love" (which many feel was to make up for her loss the year before).

"Mrs. Brown" is actually based on a true story.  After Prince Albert died, the Queen was so heartbroken she went into mourning for the rest of her life.  (She had also lost her mother the same year as Albert, so it was a double blow.)  Three years after his death, while secluded away from London, she sent for Brown, a servant of whom her husband had often spoken, from Balmoral Castle in Scotland.  It had the desired effect of getting her outside more, out of her mourning some, but they soon became close friends, and he her trusted confidant and right hand.  This, of course, concerned and angered the royal family and the rest of the political world.  Rumors started flying that they were lovers, and that they had secretly married, thus the crude "Mrs. Brown" moniker was given to the queen behind her back.  However, no one has ever been able to prove how deep their relationship truly was.

This film is what really gave Judi a film career though.  Before this film, she was mainly a stage actress, considered one of the best in British theater.  She had a few film roles under her belt, like Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" (1989), "84 Charing Cross Road" (1987) or "Jack & Sarah" (1995).  She also had a couple of hit television shows in the UK - "A Fine Romance" (1981-1984) with her late husband Michael Williams and "As Time Goes By" (1992-2002) with fellow "Mrs. Brown" costar Geoffrey Palmer.  Yet, she thanked Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax at the time, for catapulting her film career in her own special telling him she had his name tattooed on her bum.  (She really didn't, but she had a makeup friend of hers do up a fake tattoo to show him.  He got a big kick out of it.)

Originally, this was intended for television by the BBC.  But once Miramax saw the strong production values and the superb acting by all involved, they decided to distribute it theatrically.  Filmed over just five weeks on location in Scotland, there were struggles with weather and such (there were quiet a number of horse issues), but everyone, especially Ms. Dench, was extremely professional and good-humored about getting the project done.  And when it became such a success theatrically, everyone was shocked and proud beyond belief.

Now, as I mentioned, this was Dame Judi's first Oscar nomination after being in the business for forty years.  She has since received five more nominations (winning the one).  Not only with the fact that her first was gained at the age of 63, there has never been any other person, male or female, to receive that many Oscar nominations over the age of 60, period.  Even actors like Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Paul Newman didn't even come close, with three each after turning 60.  It just goes to show you that you never know when the good things will come in life, something I try to remind myself everyday.  All in all, though, Judi has won 10 BAFTAs, 7 Laurence Olivier Awards, 2 SAG Awards, 2 Golden Globes, 1 Academy Award, and 1 Tony.

So this week, rent "Mrs. Brown" and watch one of the best acting talents to ever grace the screen with Dame Judi Dench.  It was out of print for awhile, but it's finally back on DVD.  Or, if you can wait that long, it will air on TCM Jan. 8 at 1:30am EST (Jan. 7 at 10:30pm PST).  Have a wonderful week, everyone!!

(Post-tidbit:  "Mrs. Brown" is Gerald Butler's film debut.  During a break in filming, he took his mother on a picnic, and while there, heard someone calling for help.  A young boy swimming in a river nearby was drowning, so Butler jumped in and saved him.  He received a Certificate of Bravery from the Royal Humane Society for the act.)

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