Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.
After 2006’s award winning ‘The Queen’, Stephen Frears returns to the subject of the monarchy with ‘Victoria & Abdul’, this time focusing on Queen Victoria and her friendship with a young Indian servant. The film is a sequel of sorts to John Madden’s ‘Mrs. Brown’, with Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as Victoria much later in life, and it’s a solid piece of filmmaking about a previously unknown chapter of royalist history. Where it’s elevated by Dench and Ali Fazal’s charming performances, it’s let down by a sometimes dubious approach to history, and it never feels quite as necessary or on the button as Frears finest films do (including ‘The Queen’).
The tone of the film sits somewhere between melodrama and farce, never convincingly managing the balance, with the preposterous nature of some of the royal ‘traditions’ soon giving away to an attempt at serious drama. I did enjoy some of the performances although the characterisation is incredibly inconsistent, painting Victoria as a progressive and the future King Albert (Eddie Izzard) as a blithering and calculating idiot, both of which seem to be disingenuous in different senses. It’s a film that wants to tell a crowd pleasing story, and in doing so, turns a blind eye to a more thorough examination of the themes it touches upon through Ali Fazal’s character, playing the material primarily for laughs.
‘Victoria & Abdul’ is a moderately enjoyable movie that once again provides a showcase for the great Judi Dench, but it is fairly uneven and does feel at times like it’s trying to make the most of a thin story. As a pleasant enough movie to watch on a Sunday morning it did the trick, but it would have been equally at home as TV movie.
Directed By: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith, Simon Callow, Olivia Williams, Paul Higgins, Adeel Akhtar and Michael Gambon