Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."
In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with Milwaukee Film, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including comicwonder.com.
He also finds time to write about movies for OnMilwaukee.com. This week, Metcalf weighs in on
MRS. BROWN (1997)
What is it about monarchy? We fought the revolution for many reasons, but partly so that we would never again have to live under a monarchy. We still sometimes treat our presidents as though they are royalty.
Ronald Reagan sometimes seemed to enjoy that esteem. His inaugural was so lush and opulent in contrast to the style that Jimmy Carter and his wife had set, and much of the country's devotion to him was so absolute, no matter what crimes he may have committed in Nicaragua, Iran or Grenada, that it seemed for eight years as though we were living under a monarchy once more.
Of course in England the monarch is in that confusing position of having no real political power, but still feigning the absolute power of a King or Queen whose political liaison is the Prime Minister.
If the Queen commands you to jump off a bridge, you must do it. Laws don't apply. (Richard Nixon's attitude that if the President does it, it isn't against the law, as quoted in Frost/Nixon, comes to mind.) And the loyalty and devotion of her subjects is such that they must do it. Perhaps not happily, but they must do it. The way the Secret Service is supposed to take a bullet for the President. The monarchy in Great Britain may not function this way today, but it certainly seems to have been like that during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Mrs. Brown is Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was the Queen of England from 1837, when she was 18 years old, until she died in 1901. Longer than any other monarch before or since, she ruled over the empire during the great industrial revolution.
She was somewhat scandalously referred to as Mrs. Brown because of her relationship with a Scotsman who was on the staff at her home, Balmoral, in Scotland. The Queen's husband, Albert, who was apparently the love of her life at age 20, died after two decades of marriage. She was devastated and wore black in mourning for the rest of her life. But Mr. Brown slowly brought her out of her shell and was responsible for her re-entering public life. We know from hundreds of movies about Kings and Queens that monarchs are surrounded by yes-men and servants, but seldom by ones that "speak truth to power" as it is said.
Mr. Brown appears to have been one of the few. Theirs was purely a servant and master, Queen and subject relationship. As played by the sublimely magisterial Dame Judy Dench and big, gruff, occasionally-drunken Billy Connelly there is only the faintest hint of eroticism in what happens between them: a touch of a hand, the nearness of lips to hair, and eventually her willingness to appear vulnerable before him.
Judy Dench played the "Virgin Queen," Queen Elizabeth I, in "Shakespeare In Love." She was called the "Virgin Queen," but no one believed it was true. In Mrs. Brown, she plays a woman who met a man and fell deeply in love with him, married him, bore him children and lived with him for 20 years until he died while still young.
The icons of the time and her love told her to remain eternally faithful to that man throughout the rest of her long life. And she did. Because she hewed so closely to that strict moral principal, as did Mr. Brown, she was able to slowly grow a friendship with another man, a deep and true friendship that lasted throughout her lifetime even though he died many years before.
Dame Judy is a remarkable actress. An acting teacher of mine once said that the playwright writes the short story and the actor writes the novel. Judy Dench brings such complexity, depth and nuance to the characters she creates that it is like having a wonderful novel read to you by the gentlest voiced person imaginable.
Her Majesty "Mrs. Brown" is worth the time for the history and the sense of the time and culture alone, but with Dench's performance it rises to a special level of remembrance.
Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."
Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.