MOVIE REVIEW: Victoria and Abdul

Historical ‘based on a true story mostly’ about the ageing Queen Victoria, who coming to the end of her life has to ceremony after ceremony.  Life has little to nothing left to offer her apart from her duty.  When a young Indian Muslim Clerk is sent to England to present her with a ceremonial coin they strike up an unlikely friendship that changes both their lives forever.

I have always stated that these period dramas are not my bag, I can pretty much write most of them as I watch them, in my head.  But my better half enjoys them to the point now that I don’t even bother to wait to ask her if she’d like to watch one, I just get the disc or pay for the download and sit her bottom down and then go into another room and kill people on The Division.  We both get something out of it.  Recently she’s been watching The Crown and then the ITV series Victoria.  To be really honest I’m burnt out hearing about the shows, so when Victoria and Abdul came up for a screening, I sighed, I tried to get the great one to switch jobs with me for the morning so that I could do her clerical work and she could visit the screening.  Her bosses didn’t think that was a good idea, the bastards, I’ll get them for that.

Thankfully I enjoyed Victoria and Abdul to a point, more than I thought, and yet not enough for it to bypass the memories of Mrs. Brown, the previous Victoria film with Judi Dench.  Mrs. Brown was set just after the death of Victoria’s beloved Albert, here we’re about 20 years later and she’s coming to the end of her life.

The production values have to be high on these films otherwise you lose the sense of setting and character importance.  Stephen Frears captures perfectly the time and space in the worlds of England and India.  Judi Dench is outstanding, as always as the elderly monarch, and Ali Fazal does a capable job as Abdul.

Where the film falls flat is the impact that it needed against the Mrs. Brown film.  The Billy Connolly film had humour which we have heard, but the dramatic impact of Billy’s film was exceptional, here it’s just fine.  I don’t want to give the impression though that I’m down on Victoria and Abdul, it was exceptionally enjoyable for what it is, it’s the kind of movie that you’d take an elderly relative to, or put on when Granny comes around for tea.  There are enough jokes and drama to keep you interested and you wonder how much is true.  My problem with casting rests on the shoulders of Eddie Izzard, who plays Bertie, the Queens oldest and heir to the throne.  He’s too much a cartoon villain.  I know he was a bit of a dick, he was a Royal of the time, but Izzard is only short of putting his mother tied up on the train tracks while wearing a top hat and cloak.  The overt racist tones and the class system is hammered home throughout the film.

Victoria and Abdul is more, for me, showing that while Judi Dench is getting older, her talent is as fresh as it ever was.  Her unique comic timing and ability to hit every dramatic note with ease raised this film up from a lower mark, another actress in her role would never have been able to carry this film.  It’s not a sequel to Mrs. Brown, but it’s a companion piece to a better film, and worth your time once you’re not expecting a harder hitting film.

Director: Stephen Frears
Writers: Lee Hall (screenplay), Shrabani Basu (based on the book by)
Stars: Judi DenchOlivia WilliamsMichael Gambon | See full cast & crew


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