Movie Review – “Victoria & Abdul”

“An interesting and charming start… Victoria & Abdul awkwardly takes on a more serious tone by mid-movie…largely leaving behind the film’s witty humor and successful banter established between the two. …Wait to rent it”.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

It’s easy to understand why the widespread popularity of series like “Game of Thrones” or “Outlander” has garnered so many loyal television fans. Viewers enjoy stepping back in time to witness snappy foreign dialects, the intricacy of throwback wardrobes, and get spellbound by the distinct personalities presented within each hierarchy or kingdom. Or, in the case of “Victoria & Abdul”, a monarchy. Stephen Frears, who brought us the Oscar-nominated “The Queen” in 2006 and last year’s hilarious “Florence Foster Jenkins”, directs this loosely based true story of England’s Queen Victoria in 1887.

Victoria & Abdul” charts an interesting and charming start, taking us to Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) historic 50th year atop the royal throne. To properly mark such an occasion, Her Majesty orders that two gentlemen from the British colony of India appear at her Golden Jubilee celebration bearing a gift. Quickly a satisfying teacher-pupil relationship is fostered between the 24-year old Indian named Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and the elderly monarch fighting boredom.

This film’s high point is the glimpse behind the scenes of the British royalty and the equally enchanting on-screen rapport of Dench and Fazal. Dench, who also played Queen Victoria in 1997’s “Mrs. Brown”, delivers another flawless performance. Surprising is Fazal’s ability match Dench’s award-worthy work step-for-step throughout the movie. Fazal’s personal aide role as Abdul highlights a passionate teacher (called a “munshi”) who always educates and informs the isolated and lonely Victoria.

After a blistering and pompous beginning, “Victoria & Abdul” awkwardly takes on a more serious tone by mid-movie…largely leaving behind the film’s witty humor and successful banter established between the two. The story’s sharp dialogue and goodness suddenly replaced with accusations, discrimination, and outright hatred by close associates and family of the Queen. “Victoria & Abdul” darkens fast. Too fast, really. The back-and-forth friendship of the two swings wildly from hot to cold…too quick to almost seem plausible under the circumstances.

Just as fascinating as this rise of an Indian to be a servant to the British monarch is the century-old story on how it was discovered. Following Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, all records of Abdul Karim’s service and relationship to the crown were removed from the royal archives. Not until journalist Shrabani Basu found clues to their friendship in 2003, and later described it in her book “Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant”, did modern history fully understand and acknowledge this royal story. And now you should too…just wait to rent it.

Grade: C+

“Victoria & Abdul” is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language. Its running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

© 2017, Patrick. All rights reserved.

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