Set in the merry old England, Stephen Frears’ VICTORIA & ABDUL based on Shrabani Basu’s non-fiction book of the same name, is a master class in acting by the amazingly magnificent 82-year-old Judi Dench as the Queen doobara (again) after MRS. BROWN (1997) and Ali Fazal as the young Indian clerk impresses in his major opportunity in an American-British production after a snappy appearance in FAST AND FURIOUS 7.
However, Stephen Frears’ (better known for THE QUEEN and DANGEROUS LIAISONS) eagerness to present a holier than thou Queen in a stretched out politically correct adaptation that teasingly says ‘mostly’ based on real events during its opening credits betrays the eye popping efforts of Dench and pleasant charm of Fazal.
The premise had a potential of a top quality international period drama, the extraordinary true story of an unexpected friendship in the later years of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench). When Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young clerk, travels from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favor with the Queen herself. As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity.
Unfortunately, Lee Hall’s screenplay is imbalanced and it is more focused on presenting a pleasant period drama showcasing the good Queen and her royal servant who is referred as ‘Munshi‘ but the yarn to stitch it as a grand royal period robe is missing. The anti colonial sentiment is restricted in Mohammed’s (Adeel Ahktar) character. It’s strange that Abdul is so overwhelmed by the charm of the Queen that he fails to feel for his country and smiles when the Queen calls herself as the ruler of India. Abdul is so obedient but he strangely denies the protocol by directly looking in the Queen’s eye, kissing her feet.
A couple of pleasant moments stay with you like the ‘mango’, ‘Urdu’ episodes. The second half gets complicated with Abdul’s wife and mother-in-law adding to the chaos. The graph of Victoria and Abdul gets uneven where Abdul suffers in the end and Victoria emerges as a winner as the isolated old woman who had finally found joy and lightness in her final years. Stephen Frears seems to be losing it during the latter half and concludes the film as if he has lost interest.
It’s the flawless acting by Judi Dench where the eyes of the 82-year-old actress speaks volumes of her command over expressions that brings those fine and minute nuances in her exceptionally incredible portrayal as Queen is sheer delight for actors at any age/stage and the audience in general.
Ali Fazal impresses in his pleasing act as the young clerk and the actor uses his charm nicely.
British actors Michael Gambon as the Prime Minister, Olivia Williams as Baroness Churchill, Eddie Izzard as Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales shine in their parts.
Cohen’s camera is cool, calm and composed basking in the nostalgia and glory of 1885. The movie is a visual delight, Alan Macdonald’s production design and Consolata Boyle’s costumes are a treat for any eye.
Eye popping performance, visuals and chemistry between Dench and Fazal may attract some takers of yore but ideally this period drama deserved much more.