PR was an important part of regal life long before the current residents of Buckingham Palace were subjected to the full glare of the media. Only instead of being flushed out by camera-toting paparazzi, a hundred years ago a bereaved and unhappy Victoria was being urged by ministers and advisors simply to make a public appearance. The republicans were knocking at the door - and from inside the establishment these seemed like dangerous times for royalty.
Since her husband Prince Albert's death, however, Victoria had entered her sombre period. She wore black, withdrew from the public eye and was not amused. She found it difficult to be strong.
Mrs Brown, based on the real life relationship between queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and the highlander John Brown (Billy Connolly), is interesting in the way it explores the story of Victoria and the idea of queenship. We see the maneuverings of government officials, behind-the-scenes intrigue, and the loyalty that Victoria inspires in John Brown both as a figurehead and as a woman.
The story works on two levels as political drama and romance. In a desperate measure to alleviate Victoria's gloom, John Brown, a close friend of the late Albert, is ordered from the royal residence in Scotland, Balmoral. The idea is that the queen's unhappiness might be cured by rides in the country. Brown's presence begins to have a beneficial effect, but when he becomes too close to the queen he begins to create dangerous enemies at court.
Connolly, best known for his hilarious comedy sketches over the years, proves that he can play it straight well too. As the indefatigibly loyal highlander he strikes a fine balance between respect and familiarity (tricky in the stuffy Victorian age) with his queen.
Judi Dench as Queen Victoria is brilliant, revealing the queen as a complex and sympathetic character: both vulnerable widow and the aloof stateswoman of the history books.
Antony Sher also puts in a memorable performance as an oily Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party. The Highlands backdrop is also looking good.
Costume drama fans will lap this up. Mrs Brown is a good example of what the Brits do well: a historical, almost understated period piece, underpinned by gentle humour and unforced compassion.