David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

‘BTommy’s Hon­our ased on real events … mostly” states the open­ing ti­tle of Stephen Frears’s new crowd-pleaser, but even if the events de­picted in are en­tirely true, the prob­lem is they’re not all that be­liev­able in the way they’re pre­sented in this hand­somely mounted odd-cou­ple movie. De­spite a for­mi­da­ble cen­tral per­for­mance from Judi Dench there’s some­thing a bit off-key.

It seems that in 1887, as part of the cel­e­bra­tions of Queen Vic­to­ria’s Golden Jubilee, and bear­ing in mind her role as Empress of In­dia, it was de­cided that a “mo­hur”, or cer­e­mo­nial medal, be pre­sented to her by an Indian. And it seems that, more or less at ran­dom, the Indian cho­sen for this task was Ab­dul Karim (Ali Fazal), a clerk at Agra prison, se­lected mainly be­cause he was tall and rea­son­ably pre­sentable. The of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble, like most of the Brits in the film, are de­picted as twerps and buf­foons and their choice of the sec­ond equerry to ac­com­pany Ab­dul turns out to be Mo­hamed Baksh (Adeel Akhtar), who is short and plump; we’re asked to be­lieve he was a ring-in af­ter some kind of ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing an ele­phant side­lined his pre­de­ces­sor.

At any rate, the two men make the voy­age to Eng­land and be­fore long are be­ing tu­tored in court eti­quette by Sir Henry (Tim Pig­ot­tSmith), who is in charge the royal house­hold (“The key to good ser­vice is stand­ing still and walk­ing back­wards,” he ex­plains). Of course as the film’s ti­tle re­veals, and as any­one who’s seen the film’s trailer will al­ready know, a firm if un­likely friend­ship de­vel­ops be­tween the elderly monarch and the charm­ing and out­spo­ken Indian. Be­fore long Ab­dul is an of­fi­cial mem­ber of the court and is teach­ing her majesty how to read and write Urdu. She calls him her “mun­shi”, or teacher, and he seems to have re­placed the re­cently de­parted John Brown in Vic­to­ria’s af­fec­tions. The var­i­ous court of­fi­cials are not a bit pleased about the sit­u­a­tion.

Some­how the royal friend­ship sur­vives a cou­ple of star­tling rev­e­la­tions in­volv­ing Ab­dul, one be­ing that he’s a Mus­lim, not a Hindu as Vic­to­ria had sup­posed; and it’s at this point that the film be­gins to feel even more con­trived as it none too sub­tly — though no doubt with the best in­ten­tions — mocks the hor­ror on the faces of the courtiers when con­fronted with Mus­lims and burkas. Ap­palled too is Ber­tie, the prince of Wales (Ed­die Iz­zard), who comes rush­ing back from his favourite wa­ter­ing hole, Monte Carlo, to find out what on earth’s go­ing on in Wind­sor Cas­tle. Iz­zard, like many of the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, tends to chew the scenery.

And this is one of the film’s prob­lems. Frears has made many good movies over a long ca­reer ( My Beau­ti­ful Laun­drette, Dan­ger­ous Li­aisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, The Queen), so it’s a lit­tle sur­pris­ing to see the way he al­lows the sup-


Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul (tbc) Na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day Tommy’s Hon­our (M) In limited re­lease

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul; be­low, Jack Low­den and Peter Mul­lan in

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