Victoria & Abdul is a pretty period piece
VICTORIA & ABDUL Direction: Stephen Frears Actors: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal
Twenty years after her first leading (and Oscar-nominated) role as Queen Victoria in the historical drama Mrs. Brown, Judi Dench reprises the role of longreigning British monarch for another film.
Chronicling the incredible true story of the friendship between Victoria, then in the twilight of her life, and a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim (Fazal), Victoria & Abdul is buoyed by an old-fashioned cinematic style replete with humour and compassion.
Soon after arriving from Agra to present the sovereign with a ceremonial coin on the occasion of her golden jubilee celebrations, the ‘commoner’ finds favour with the queen, much to the annoyance of her entourage.
Increasingly weary of her privileged position, the octogenarian monarch begins to learn Urdu from her personal ‘munshi’. Overwhelmed by the unswerving loyalty and candour of her new Indian confidante, she even installs a durbar hall complete with peacock throne at the royal residence.
As their relationship deepens and Victoria’s gloom is dispelled, the household staff and her own son threaten revolt, pushing the monarchy on the brink of crisis.
Veteran British filmmaker Stephen Frears, who guided Helen Mirren to an Academy Award in The Queen (2006), effectively evokes the regalia of the late 19th century imperial court.
The belated arrival of Abdul’s wife and mother-inlaw barely manages to touch upon crucial issues like the consequences of colonialism and the racial prejudices prevalent at the time of the Raj. The treatment meted out to Abdul and his family after the death of the empress is depicted in a few shoddy scenes.
Apart from the superlative Judi Dench (surely a shoo-in for another Oscar nomination), there are a host of strong supporting performances notably Abdeel Akhtar as Abdul’s disenchanted sidekick, Eddie Izzard as the future king Edward VII and Simon Callow as the legendary opera composer Puccini.
Essentially a pretty period piece, Victoria & Abdul is worth the price of admission.
It is also worth noting that John Madden who directed Judi Dench in her first outing as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown back in 1997 is currently in the city in his capacity of chairperson of the jury of the International Competition section at the ongoing Mumbai film festival (MAMI).
Judi Dench (left) and Ali Fazal in the film.