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Victoria & Abdul – Movie Review

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Victoria & Abdul – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Stephen Frears is a commendable director known for crafting reasonably well made films and Victoria & Abdul fits into that tidy box. Maybe it’s a bit too tidy and clean at points as it mostly opts for an inoffensive approach in telling the story. However, Frears is confident in the tone he wishes to strike and allows his two leads to have the proper winning chemistry. This is primarily a vehicle for Judi Dench and she more than handles the task of reprising the role of Queen Victoria, after previously playing her in Mrs. Brown. One can easily view this as a sequel to that film.

While this is a more pleasant depiction of Queen Victoria than is historically factual, Judi Dench brings the necessary regal quality and one sees her frustrations at being on the throne for so many years. Her curiousity at this young Indian man feels genuine as she clearly wants to learn about his culture. Lee Hall’s screenplay doesn’t shy away from the slight “cultural appropriation” on display when she becomes more invested in his country and language. Ali Fazal shows the proper amount of charm in playing Abdul Karim and the humour is thankfully not at his expense. There is a want to find out what is happening inside his head.

Most of the mockery is towards the royalty and their established rules. The film does not portray Prince Bertie nor the rest of the Queen’s staff in the best light, which creates a lot of the amusing comedy that manifests. Frears and Hall continually poke fun at them through the course of the movie as these royal workers and family members turn their noses up at Abdul. Victoria and Abdul’s relationship is also closer to a mutual friendship with thankfully no hint at romance, a temptation that other filmmakers might have fallen into. The doses of humour also give the film a brisk pace, avoiding the stuffiness that could have befallen this material.

Victoria & Abdul, however, doesn’t go into nearly enough detail about the rule England had over India at the time. The film takes a fairly light approach in showing the ruthlessness with which the Brits ruled the land. The film sort of brushes under the rug the way Abdul and his fellow servant Muhammad are shipped off to England with little dignity to show for it. That element is frequently at the back of one’s head when watching Victoria & Abdul. The whole idea that maybe this wasn’t a good thing is hardly touched upon as the film chooses to focus primarily on how well the Queen and her Indian teacher got along.

Even with the historical licenses and cleaning up going on, Stephen Frears manages to avoid making Victoria & Abdul too sentimental and schmaltzy. Judi Dench could do this sort of role in her sleep, but she nonetheless brings her expected A-game and works well alongside Ali Fazal. There’s a light touch to both the direction and screenplay and it will absolutely please the target audience who laps up these depictions of the British royal family. It’s best to walk in, not expecting some scandalous expose, but rather to understand the film merely wants to depict this friendship between two people from vastly different cultures and backgrounds.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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