Victoria and Abdul

Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(1user review)
Victoria And Abdul

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Judi Dench as Queen Victoria is the best thing about this ornate and safe comedy-drama about the monarch's unlikely friendship with an Indian servant

It’s too good a story to let the truth get in the way of it: Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) is said to have struck up an intimate quasi-romantic friendship with a male Indian servant during the later years of her reign and to have made Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) her personal munshi (teacher) in defiance of court whispers and opposition. With this softly entertaining, teasing dive into the tale, director Stephen Frears (The Queen) and screenwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) serve up a lavish rendering of late-Victorian court life, with detours to India and Italy and plenty of bite-your-tongue implausibilities along the way. Some good one-liners ("Everything in Scotland is scratchy!") help to cancel out some clunkers: would Victoria really have uttered anything so modern as "hurt my feelings"?

It’s broad stuff, loaded with eye-grabbing design and locations and peppered with fun and fruity character turns at every remove (Eddie Izzard as the aggrieved future Edward VII, Michael Gambon as the PM, Simon Callow as Puccini). So thankfully Judi Dench provides much needed weight as the Queen, playing the same role as two decades ago in Mrs Brown. But even Dench, while adeptly highlighting the vulnerabilities of age and the loneliness of power, can’t distract from the soft treatment, which leaves little room for the harsh realities of prejudice that must have made this a more painful and ugly chapter for many involved than this film ever dares suggest. "He’s the brown John Brown," is as far as the sniping goes. 

Hall’s script mildly pokes fun at courtly pomposity, while eventually treating the relationship between Victoria and Karim as a balanced friendship – when surely the truth was more difficult. It's pretty obvious where the power lies here, yet most complexities are sidelined. Victoria and Abdul plays first as a gaudy fish-out-of-water ensemble comedy and only later settles into something gentler and mildly serious as Victoria begins to wane and the opposition to Karim grows. This is kid-gloves historical storytelling. It’s sometimes amusing, and occasionally touching, but there’s nothing here to scare the horses.

Details

Release details

Rated:
PG
Release date:
Thursday September 14 2017
Duration:
108 mins

Cast and crew

Director:
Stephen Frears
Screenwriter:
Lee Hall
Cast:
Judi Dench
Ali Fazal
Michael Gambon

Users say (1)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3 / 5

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Tastemaker

One thing's for sure. The film is a great way to get to know the forgotten life of this incredible character: Abdul. That in itself for me is enough to make you want to watch the film. It's also a powerful way to counterbalance the racism of Victorian people who tried to erase all memories of the man.


Nowadays, with extremism and racism on the rise, it's an eye opening tale that we should all try to get along. Some moments are actually very funny, when we see the world through the Indian characters' eyes. Jelly (made from cows) becomes barbaric and makes you think we shouldn't look down on other cultures and use our cultural filter to judge.


The film however is a bit lengthy and drags to an inevitable and predictable end. If the storytelling would have been polished slightly, it'd have deserved 5 stars for sure.