by Alan Yudman
When I went to see VICTORIA & ABDUL I wasn’t sure what I was going to see. I though maybe I was in for a Merchant/Ivory story. I was apprehensive, but Dame Judi Dench convinced me to check it out. Now I’m glad I did.
If you are not familiar with the story, Abdul was an Indian Muslim who was selected to travel to England to present a commemorative coin to Queen Victoria near the end of her reign. But once he arrived and the two met, they struck up a deep friendship. One that continued until her death.
VICTORIA & ABDUL is delightful. Dench is perfect. But when isn’t she? In this case she plays the gruff monarch with a ton of humor. She’s outlived everyone she has ever known or loved. At the time she was he longest reigning monarch in history and she felt like it was over, but kept on because that is what she was supposed to do. But meeting Abdul (Ali Fazal, who is wonderful) she finds a reason to go on. He teaches her about India, Islam and becomes her teacher and trusted adviser.
None of this sat well with the stiff upper lip brigade. They were horrified because, well he was brown, low born, a Muslim. They were prejudiced and proud of it. They were protecting the Monarchy. It features two very good performances by the late Tim Piggott-Smith as her head of household Sir Henry Ponsonby and Eddie Izzard as her son and heir to the throne, Bertie the Prince of Wales. They are all horrible by today’s standards. They can’t see how Abdul has breathed new life into the Queen. How she was expanding their horizons.
The first two-thirds of the movie are peppered with a ton of humor. It is comedy of manners kind of stuff, but Dench pulls it off perfectly. There is a lot of harumphing and scheming from her staff. And a lot of cutting remarks from the Queen. It works very well.
Then towards the end the movie gets a bit too sentimental. The Queen falls ill and is dying and Abdul is kept from her for a time. Then when she dies he is treated horribly by the new King. He is forced to return to India with his wife. It’s not bad.. or eye rolling in any way, but it kind of turns the movie in a different direction.
Stephen Frears does a wonderful job bringing the “mostly true” screenplay by Lee Hall to life. The costume and set design are beautiful and the makeup work is fabulous.
VICTORIA & ABDUL tells an unusual love story of the unusual friendship between to very different people. But it is most certainly an enjoyable film.