Madden's film owes its existence to the success of The Madness of King George, a period vehicle for a superb but cinematically under-appreciated actor. For Farmer George, substitute Widow Victoria, still immersed in grief four years after the death of Albert. For Nigel Hawthorne, substitute Judi Dench. Like Nicholas Hytner's film, Mrs Brown documents a period during which the monarchy was in crisis due to the government's unpopularity and the sovereign's emotional instability. For madness, substitute grief: Victoria was so inconsolable that she became known as the Widow of Windsor. Enter John Brown, a no-nonsense Highlander and devoted servant to Her Majesty; only he has the guts to wean her out of her sadness, to talk to her like a woman. Dench is magnificent as Victoria, a toy-sized, black-suited, dough girl of despair, a woman slowly recovering her wits and her expectations. But Connolly's Brown is hardly less fine, a cast-iron portrait of a man teetering on the edge of ridicule and disgrace but wishing to go the whole nine yards for the cause he serves.