Her Majesty Mrs. Brown 1997 Directed by John Madden. The Scottish John Brown (Billy Connolly – wonderful), formerly a trusted servant of Prince Albert, is asked to the castle to try to encourage recently widowed Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) toward resuming public life. The two gradually develop a much closer relationship than was intended with Brown taking liberties, including control of the Queen’s activities. Suspicion the two were more than friends was alive then and lingers now.
As her lengthy seclusion fosters anti-monarchical sentiment, Brown is asked to nudge her at least to make a traditional speech at the opening of Parliament. Victoria considers this a betrayal. They argue. Though he continues to serve, intimacy and power are reduced even when he thwarts an assassin. At the end of his life Victoria goes to see her old friend with great remorse. Brown left a diary that was never found. Though likely not entirely factual, this is a lovely film with deft directorial hand and great chemistry between the stars. Rent on Amazon Prime or Free Trial of Britbox.
Last of The Blonde Bombshells 2000 Directed by Gillies MacKinnon. At loose ends after her husband’s death, Elizabeth busks with young street guitarist Paul (Dom Chapman), improving the take and her spirits. Her daughter is mortified. Elizabeth is a good a saxophonist, but hasn’t picked up her instrument since WWII when she played with the almost all female Blonde Bombshells. One day, Patrick (Ian Holm), the band’s single male member (he wore a dress and wig) chances by. They have a warm meeting and decide to get the group back together for a reunion concert.
The rest of the film involves tracking down each band member, a look at the Bombshells back then, and catch-up with the musicians’ disparate lives. Players include: Olympia Dukakis, Cleo Laine, Billie Whitelaw, Leslie Caron, June Whitfield, Valentine Pelka, Millie Findlay, and Felicity Dean. The ending could use goosing, but this is peaceful charming – something we could use more of these days. Free on Amazon Prime with HBO Trial.
Mrs. Henderson Presents 2005 The true story of eccentric British socialite Laura Henderson who opened London’s Windmill Theatre in London in 1931 and kept it going through the war. Directed by Stephen Frears. Looking for something to do with her time and money, Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) renovates and opens The Windmill Theatre. She hires and immediately locks horns with experienced, authoritarian producer Vivian Van Damn (Bob Hoskins). The venue opens with a flirty variety revue called “Revudeville.”
When it doesn’t attract an audience, Laura suggests full nudity. In order to get the show past the Lord Chamberlain, performers must stand still and be viewed “like art” as tableau vivant. THIS is a roaring success. Laura and Vivian grow to respect and like one another, but this story is about the girls, soldiers, and solidarity/war effort. (The theatre’s basement became a combination dormitory and shelter.) Both Dench and Hoskins are splendid. Terrific cinematography. Rent on Apple TV or Google Play.
Notes on a Scandal 2006 Adapted from the novel by Zoe Heller. Directed by Richard Eyre. Close to retirement, history teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) disdains the school system and peers alike. When art instructor Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) joins the comprehensive (a school for elementary aged children that doesn’t select students on the basis of academic achievement), however, she perks up. The new staff member is married to much older Richard (Bill Nighy) and has a special needs child.
Barbara witnesses Sheba with a 15 year-old Stephen Connolly (Andrew Simpso). It’s clear they’re having an affair. She confronts her so-called friend, but promises not to tell authorities. Her price is more time and attention…the blackmail victim is unwilling to give. When everything hits the fan, Sheba doesn’t realize it’s Barbara who revealed the illicit situation. There are realistic consequences for both women. Though it boasts an excellent supporting cast, this psychological thriller is a two-hander. Dench and Blanchett smoulder. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Cranford 2007 BBC Adapted from three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and The Last Generation in England. Directed by Simon Curtis and Steve Hudson. Set in the 1840s at the fictional village of Cranford in Northwest England, the series focuses on the town’s single, spinster, and widowed middle class female residents; fraught changes in mores, and a few pivotal men. For any fan of Jane Austen. Top tier cast: Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Jim Carter, Lisa Dillon, Deborah Findlay, Michael Gambon, Leslie Manville, Francesca Annis.
Steve Hudson, the original director, was replaced after six weeks because, according to Eileen Atkins, “He didn’t really understand why it was funny.” Free with Trial on Britbox.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2012 Based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. Directed by John Madden. A disparate group of British retirees respectively decide, because of low cost and the glossy brochure, to spend their sunset days at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India. They arrive to find a once grand, tumbledown building in serious need of repair. Young, inept manager, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) plans to fix things as the money comes in.
Some of the elders get their knickers in a twist about environs, others are excited and intrepid, integrating themselves into the community, a few find love, one couple breaks up. Besides the marvelous Dame Judi, there’s Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Diana Hardcastle as longtime Jaipur resident. Oh to be a fly on the wall! Tina Desai plays Sonny’s girlfriend Sunaina and Lillete Dubey Sonny’s widowed mother.
Illuminating the fact that one does not have to be young to change/learn, fall in love, and have adventures. The company, all staples of British theater/film and old friends, were delighted for the opportunity to work together. A treat. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel followed in 2015. Almost as good. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Victoria & Abdul 2017 Based on the book by Shrabani Basu about the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria and Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim. Directed by Stephen Frears. Similar to Her Majesty and Mr. Brown, the film observes a developing friendship between her majesty and Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Though he’s sent to England only for the Queen’s 1887 Golden Jubilee, Abdul rouses Victoria’s curiosity and gradually widens her horizons. It was he who inspired the Queen to build The Durbar Room for state functions at Osborne House.
As the “interloper’s” influence grows, the Prime Minister, household and even son Bertie (the Prince of Wales) plot to get rid of Abdul (a far less egotistical or interfering character than Mr. Brown). Though there’s one big misunderstanding, they collectively fail. Victoria supports her friend even when everyone threatens to quit. When she falls ill…. One critic called Abdul’s character “disappointingly servile.” Another suggests “the film tries to absolve barbaric behavior in colonized countries.” I found it poignant and illuminating, a human story. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top Bigstock photo: Actress Dame Judi Dench attends the premiere of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” at the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 3, 2015 in New York City.