Film re­view

As Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as Queen Vic­to­ria, TV3’s movie ex­pert Kate Rodger won­ders if this one will be an Os­car-win­ning per­for­mance.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - ON SCREEN -

Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul Star­ring Dame Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Ed­die Iz­zard, Olivia Wil­liams and Michael Gam­bon. Di­rected by Stephen Frears.

Twenty years af­ter she first played Queen Vic­to­ria on the big screen in Mrs Brown, Dame Judi Dench re­turns to do so again. Based on the book Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul: The True Story of the Queen’s Clos­est Con­fi­dant by Shra­bani Basu, the cin­e­matic ver­sion of these events comes cour­tesy of Bri­tish film­maker Stephen Frears. And Frears knows his way around Buck­ing­ham Palace; he’s the man be­hind that other mar­vel­lous royal romp, The Queen. Dame He­len Mir­ren won an Os­car for her Queen Elizabeth – will Dame Judi Dench finally win hers as Vic­to­ria?

In the twi­light years of Vic­to­ria’s in­cred­i­ble reign as monarch, a young In­dian man is sent to Bri­tain to present the Em­press of In­dia with a gift upon the oc­ca­sion of her golden ju­bilee. Ab­dul Karim (Ali Fazal) is sternly warned he must not, un­der any cir­cum­stances, make eye con­tact with the Queen. It would be the first of many, many times that Ab­dul would defy mem­bers of the royal house­hold.

An unlikely friend­ship is born and Ab­dul would soon be­come a sta­ple mem­ber of Vic­to­ria’s en­tourage, be­com­ing known as “the Mun­shi”, her teacher. Need­less to say, the sight of a hand­some young In­dian man at her side didn’t just cre­ate a stir, it cre­ated a storm. And the more she en­trusted Ab­dul with, the big­ger that storm grew.

There are many nar­ra­tive sim­i­lar­i­ties here with the story of Vic­to­ria and her Mr Brown as her court flut­ters and fusses around her, jostling for favour. Both friend­ships were re­garded as scan­dalous, and in the case of Ab­dul things are even more complicated. His in­flu­ence is far more alarm­ing – he’s In­dian, and a com­mon peas­ant at that. Soon the Queen’s son and fu­ture king, Ber­tie, the Prince of Wales (Ed­die Iz­zard), will mount a full-scale of­fen­sive against Ab­dul. His mis­sion: to dis­credit the Mun­shi, and send him back to In­dia.

Ed­die Iz­zard is an un­ex­pected high­light of this film as Ber­tie, plumb­ing much needed emo­tional depths and prov­ing he is more than ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing on far more de­mand­ing roles. He and Dench are a sim­ple joy to watch, spar­ring as mother and son, queen and heir ap­par­ent, to­gether adding much needed heft to pro­ceed­ings. For while there is plenty to love about this story and this film, there is a strange stilt­ed­ness to the telling at times, a lit­tle too Mas­ter­piece Theatre and not enough im­pact and edge to el­e­vate it to big-screen sta­tus.

There is, of course, that one ir­refutable truth which should gov­ern any movie choice and should al­most cer­tainly gov­ern you here: any time spent in a cin­ema with Dame Judi is time and money well spent.

An unlikely friend­ship is born.

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