Victoria & Abdul: Sugary, Feel-Good Portrayal of the Most Unlikely of Relationships
Following her appearance as Queen Victoria in 1997’s Mrs. Brown, the forever-formidable force of nature known as Dame Judi Dench returns to the big screen to reprise the role of the famously diligent British monarch in Stephen Frear’s utterly enjoyable comedy-drama, Victoria & Abdul; a study of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim during the late years of her reign
Following a very brief prologue in India, the movie quickly moves to 19th Century England, where we are introduced to the seemingly bored and stifled Queen Victoria going through the motions as she celebrates her Jubilee. Dragged through various formal functions and luncheons, which only seem to bore the dressed-in-black Widow of Windsor who enjoys finding her solace in copious amounts of food, Queen Victoria soon locks eyes with Abdul (played by the Bollywood star Ali Fazaal); an Indian clerk who was sent to England to present the ceremonial coin to the Queen, as part of the long-standing tradition of her Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Instructed to never to look the Queen directly in the eyes, the young and handsome young man from India, thinking that he will probably never get this opportunity again, disobeys the rules and he soon makes a direct and intimate contact with the agitated Queen. Making an instant connection, Queen Victoria begins to spend more time with her ‘munshi’ (teacher) hoping that she will learn more about Indian culture, considering that she is the Empress of India after all. However, their close relationship does not sit well with those around her and the situation soon gets out of control when her right to the throne begins to get questioned.
Adapted from the book of the same name, written by Indian journalist Shrabani Basu, the story is light and undemanding in structure, with the script choosing to approach the British monarchy a touch of lightness. Frears infuses the story with plenty of good-natured humor, which works well as a foil to the irritable and stroppy monarch, while Dench delivers on all fronts. Offering an astoundingly engaging performance – we smell an Oscar nom coming her way in January – Dench is a power to be reckoned with and her much-younger co-star is not fazed with the Bollywood star offering an equally engaging turn.
Endearing and lovable in nature, Victoria & Abdul is not as dramatically strong as perhaps it should have been and although a little sugary in its approach and plays fast and loose with history, it still manages, thanks to Dench’s exceptionally winning performance, to find a nice balance and hit plenty of high points to make for an easy and an enjoyable viewing.