As the opening credits roll during the film Her Majesty, Mrs Brown, a Markino marble bust, which has been tossed over a castle’s ramparts, tumbles through the air toward the ground. When the work of art lands, it shatters into an eruption of shards, the sound exploding like a gunshot. The bust paid homage to a Scottish Highlander named John Brown, a devoted outdoor servant to Prince Albert at Balmoral Castle during the shooting season. He was fetched to try to lift Queen Victoria from a grief-stricken spiral after her husband dies, chosen (according to the script) because it was the Queen’s “deeply held view that all Highlanders are good for the health”!
The Seat of Scottish Power
The plan worked, the brash fellow an excellent antidote for her sadness, though his influence would put him in a precarious political position, a seat of Scottish power, so to speak, that would be very unsettling for the British realm. The role of John Brown was acted brilliantly by one of my favorite Scots, Billy Connolly. Playing opposite him as Queen Victoria is the inimitable Dame Judi Dench.
Gerard Butler debuts in his first screen appearance as Connolly’s younger brother Archie, his Scottish brogue stronger in this role than most that have followed as he has maneuvered his career into territory farther afield from Scotland. A number of scenes in the film are set in the Highlands, several at Balmoral Castle—each a testament to rugged grandeur.
In one particularly scenic montage, Brown, who’s recovering from broken ribs, takes Prime Minister Disraeli, played by Antony Sher, on a challenging hike along the jagged crags of Lochnagar. As Brown struggles up the steep precipice, it hits me that he is both tough and beautiful—his character as a quintessential outdoorsman tough, his authenticity at speaking his mind beautiful. I like very much that his character is given an intelligence that prevents him from being one-note, an important depth that is cemented by a number of subtle details. When he takes his quarters at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, for instance, he unpacks leather boxes filled with books, the hide so worn as to read as buttery soft—a subliminal message that he never travels without his books. In another scene, he asks one of the queen’s maids what Victoria is reading for recreation so he can intelligently discuss the writing with her.
He is told Lord Tennyson, whose famous lines “Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all…” brilliantly sum up the mood of the film. During a power struggle with the Prince of Wales, Brown corrects the monarch’s blundered who for whom; and when he is reprimanded by another servant, he calls him on his sentence structure—“that’s a tautology, lad,” he says to the man’s claim that the Queen has arranged the servant’s seating at the table herself.
Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown
Victoria appreciates his acumen but his intellect causes friction between them, particularly during the scene when she reveals she’s thinking about publishing her Highland Journals, which will become one of the most popular literary releases during her reign once she does. Recording their first glimpses of Scotland as a young king and queen, Victoria wrote this description: “At a quarter to one o’clock, we heard the anchor let down—a welcome sound. At seven we went on deck, where we breakfasted. Close on one side were Leith and the high hills towering over Edinburgh, which was in fog; and on the other side was to be seen the Isle of May (where it is said Macduff held out against Macbeth), the Bass Rock being behind us.”
The historical significance of the journals is mind-blowing, as entries like this one attest to the passing monarchs who made an impact upon and were impacted by the country: “We walked out, and saw the mound on which the ancient Scotch kings were always crowned; also the old arch with James VI’s arms, and the old cross, which is very interesting.
“Before our windows stands a sycamore-tree planted by James VI. A curious old book was bought to us from Perth, in which the last signatures are those of James I (of England) and of Charles I, and we were asked to write our names in it, and we did so.”
Chairs with Ample Scottish Power
In every frame and every bit of dialogue, this film is a salute to the Scottish spirit, one I am referencing today to pay tribute to a burgeoning collection of furniture that recently came across my radar. It is equally representative of the uniqueness of the Highlands, the first piece to debut in the collection fittingly named the Highland chair. It was joined by a slightly smaller wingback called the Ann just last week.
Manufactured by Bruce Andrews Design, the chairs were inspired by the founder of the company’s Scottish roots: “My dad comes from a long lineage of Scots,” Bruce Andrews Macdonald explains. “My grandfather had an estate in Scotland on the Isle of Skye—very dramatically perched as it was along the cliffs and crags. I really enjoyed his style and tastes. The interiors of his home there were very strong and beautiful—had been there for hundreds of years—so I took inspiration from pieces he owned.”
When I sat down for an interview with Macdonald during High Point Market earlier this week, he explained his desire to create bespoke stateliness rather than embracing commerce for commerce’s sake. “When I talk about the commercialization of luxury, I compare Mercedes, for instance, with the Morgan Motor Company, which only produces around 1,000 automobiles each year—cars that are so unique, the family crest can be embroidered on the seats,” he explains. “This is uber-luxury and there is a waiting list, which people are willing to tolerate because they understand what they will be getting in the end.”
Similarly with Bruce Andrews Design, no more than 170 units of each planned introduction will be made during any given year. Additions will eventually include a sofa, an ottoman and a club chair, with side and coffee tables, lighting, and throw pillows possible further down the road. Along with heritage, comfort was top of mind when the collection was being developed.
“These chairs are incredibly comfortable—sitting in one is like sitting in a Rolls Royce,” Macdonald notes. “Making sure that the comfort on the inside meets the beauty on the outside has always been integral to our vision.”
The special materials of the chair’s disparate parts are key ingredients to the luxuriant feel, he explains, adding, “There is a duck in Hungary that is bred solely for foie gras, their feathers remarkably supple due to the diet they are fed. We use 80% feathers from these ducks with 20% down. The wood is kiln-dried maple, and the coil is silk and cotton covered. The upholstery is hand-stitched, even underneath the pillow, the Bruce Andrews crest on the decking created with a step-and-repeat process.”
Posture was also taken into consideration as the designs were developed. “When we were researching how to make these chairs the ultimate in seating comfort, we worked with an orthopedic surgeon in Boston to help us create the frame,” Macdonald says. “We took his ideas and worked with a team of upholsterers in Newton, Massachusetts, to bring the concept to life.”
Though ergonomics were highly considered, no design details were sacrificed to physical ease, an example being the handsome craftsmanship in the feral feet on the chairs, the end-caps made by a jeweler in Rhode Island. And the company takes its claim American Made very seriously.
“We’re strict about who our partners are because we earn the claim Made in America,” Macdonald explains. “The nailhead trim, for instance, is made in Los Angeles, and the chairs are assembled in North Carolina. Each piece we produce carries a brass plaque with the name of the last person who worked on it, as well as a number to signify its place in production.”
Both the Highland and Ann chairs are on view at the Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles’ Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens in Atlanta, which was unveiled on Friday and will stay open through May 15. The chairs are being shown in Ginger Brewton Interiors’ room in the showhouse, which is located at 3800 Northside Drive in Atlanta. If you make it by the venue and you see the chairs, share a pic with me on social media, okay?
And if you haven’t seen Mrs Brown, or if it’s been a while, I highly recommend it for no other reason than Connolly’s striking good looks (he absolutely rocks a kilt!) and the breathtaking scenery that reads at times like lichen-covered stone origami sliced by runnels of rushing water. The colors of the misty moors are a jeweled green intermingled with ochre and terra cotta hues striated everywhere with ribbons of gray stone. The luxuriant interior scenes at Osborne House and Balmoral are stunning, as well, particularly when the queen and her staff are moving through them. There’s just something about all of that black taffeta, satin and organza wafting through the ornate décor with the magnificent paintings hovering above—grief has never looked so gorgeous!
Kudos to John Madden’s directing and Jeremy Brock’s screenwriting because the movie seems powerfully authentic even when poetic license is taken with the story. I was particularly struck by the Queen’s struggles with her feelings for a man everyone considered beneath her notice, so much so that she had the bust I mention at the opening of this post carved in his likeness and commissioned Charles Burton Barber to paint the above oil portrait of the two of them, depicting them on Brown’s birthday in 1876. Does the storyline prove Tennyson’s premise that it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all? Maybe; it’s rare to find such sentiment in our cynical world today. What I am certain of is that the film’s a veritable love letter to loyalty. That’s truth enough for me.
The Modern Salonnière and this entry, The Seat of Scottish Power, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and SEO strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.