VICTORIAANDABDUL(PG) ****

Evening Times - - MOVIES -

TWENTY years ago, Judi Dench beau­ti­fully cap­tured the aching lone­li­ness and dig­nity of Queen Vic­to­ria in John Mad­den’s ex­quis­ite bi­o­graph­i­cal drama, Mrs Brown.

At the for­mi­da­ble age of 64 years young, she won Bafta and Golden Globe awards for her daz­zling per­for­mance and gar­nered her first Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

Un­de­servedly, Dench lost the golden stat­uette to He­len Hunt in As Good As It Gets but the fol­low­ing year, she emerged vic­to­ri­ous, this time as an acid-tongued Queen El­iz­a­beth, for Shake­speare In Love.

The diminu­tive na­tional trea­sure ef­fort­lessly slips back into the re­gal garb of Queen Vic­to­ria for Stephen Frears’ heart-warm­ing drama torn from a long-lost page in his­tory.

“Based on real events... mostly” de­clares an open­ing ti­tle card, rais­ing the cur­tain on a com­fort­ingly warm and cosy script by Lee Hall (Billy El­liot), who has adapted the book of the same ti­tle by Shra­bani Basu.

Set dur­ing the fi­nal five years of Vic­to­ria’s tur­bu­lent reign, Frears’ pic­ture touches upon some of the same themes as Dench’s ear­lier por­trayal of the grief-stricken monarch, al­beit with more hu­mour. Mrs Lighter Brown, if you will. The year is 1887 and Queen Vic­to­ria (Dench) is comfortably in­stalled as Em­press of In­dia, although she has never vis­ited the do­main for fear of as­sas­si­na­tion.

In Agra, two lowly men - Ab­dul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Mo­hammed (Adeel Akhtar) - are cho­sen by Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties to present the monarch with a cer­e­mo­nial gold coin called a mo­hur.

They travel to Wind­sor Cas­tle and re­ceive a crash course in royal eti­quette from groom-in-wait­ing Alick Yorke (Ju­lian Wad­ham).

Soon af­ter, Ab­dul catches Vic­to­ria’s eye - “I thought the tall one was ter­ri­bly hand­some,” she coos - and the vis­i­tor is rapidly pro­moted to the monarch’s spir­i­tual ad­vi­sor or “Mun­shi”.

A re­la­tion­ship of mu­tual ap­pre­ci­a­tion blos­soms be­tween Vic­to­ria and Ab­dul, to the con­ster­na­tion of her son and heir ap­par­ent Ber­tie (Ed­die Iz­zard), as well as pri­vate sec­re­tary Sir Henry Pon­sonby (Tim Pig­ot­tSmith), per­sonal physi­cian Dr Reid (Paul Hig­gins) and Prime Min­is­ter Lord Sal­is­bury (Michael Gam­bon).

“I say he’s the brown John Brown,” cru­elly sneers Baroness Churchill (Olivia Wil­liams), one of the Queen’s glow­er­ing com­pan­ions.

Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul is a bit­ter­sweet and ir­re­sistibly charm­ing choco­late box, filled with soft emo­tional cen­tres

Se­ri­ous dis­course about the im­pact of the Bri­tish em­pire in late 19th-cen­tury In­dia is con­ve­niently swept un­der the palaces’ Per­sian rugs.

Twinkly-eyed Dench is flaw­less, cap­tur­ing the iso­la­tion and de­spair of her overweight, can­tan­ker­ous ruler (“Ev­ery­one I’ve re­ally loved has died and I just go on and on,” she sobs) as well as Vic­to­ria’s steely re­solve when her son threat­ens to seize the throne by hav­ing her de­clared in­sane.

Screen chem­istry with Bol­ly­wood hunk Fazal is de­light­ful and the great and the good of the Bri­tish act­ing es­tab­lish­ment in­habit sup­port­ing roles with plummy aplomb. Run­ning Time: 112 min Di­rec­tor: Stephen Frears

Ed­die Iz­zard plays the Prince of Wales in Vic­to­ria and Ab­dul

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