We've become so accustomed to the "boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl" mentality in the movies that when the latter part doesn't happen it becomes a great shock.
At the risk of revealing a big plot element in "Mrs. Brown," a fictionalized account of the relationship between Queen Victoria and the Scottish horseman John Brown: They don't ever "get together" in this drama, even though it goes against traditional movie storytelling.
And like that revelation, much of the film is unromanticized. Playing the queen and her trusted friend are Judi Dench and Billy Connolly, who aren't exactly matinee idols unlike Sean Connery and Elizabeth Taylor, who were set to play the parts in a more-sensationalistic 1970s version of the story that was ultimately quashed by Buckingham Palace.
It's exactly this air of plain, unglamorous storytelling as well as sensational performances from Dench and Connolly that allows the film to overcome an at-times emotionally empty script and a seemingly abrupt ending.
"Mrs. Brown" picks up the life story of Queen Victoria in 1864, three years after the death of Prince Albert. Despite the efforts of family and staff, the queen (Dench) is hopelessly depressed and remains sheltered, both physically and emotionally, at the royal family's mansion on the Isle of Wight.
In desperation, her servants summon Brown (Connolly), a Highlander who took the prince on hunting trips and whom they hope will pull the queen out of her funk. But the rebellious Scot immediately begins bucking the system, forcing Victoria to take prolonged horse rides "for her health."
By cleverly getting her out of the house, Brown quickly becomes close friends with the queen too close for her son, Bertie, the prince of Wales (David Westhead), and much too close for gossipy British newspapermen, who sarcastically nickname her "Mrs. Brown."
But despite John's constant attention and protection, the queen still remains out of the public eye, which rankles her private secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby (Geoffrey Palmer), and politicians who desperately need her support in Parliament. Of the bunch, only Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (Anthony Sher) is able to capitalize on the duo's cozy-but-not-too-cozy relationship to curry favor.
Speaking of capitalizing, director John Madden utilizes the sumptuous Scottish and English countryside to maximum effect. Also helping things greatly is the film's talented cast, which not only includes stunning performances from the leads, but a scene-stealing turn by Sher as well.
And even though the material runs out of steam in places (at times things seem as suffocating and dull as life in the royal residence), screenwriter Jeremy Brock's script is witty enough. He also wisely avoids adding unwelcome innuendo and only briefly touches on any romantic feelings the two might have felt.
"Mrs. Brown" is rated PG for a few scattered profanities, violence, male nudity during a brief skinnydipping scene and a couple of mildly vulgar references.