Vic­to­ria and Ab­dul

The Guardian - G2 - - Reviews film -

★★★★★ Dir: Stephen Frears. With: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pig­ott-smith. 112 mins. Cert: PG

Stephen Frears’ lat­est is a cloth-eared Gunga Din tale, painted up as a chaste ro­mance and chart­ing the true (but never con­vinc­ing) friend­ship be­tween Queen Vic­to­ria (Judi Dench) and a young In­dian Mus­lim. It’s only Dench’s shrewd, af­fect­ing per­for­mance that keeps this sorry af­fair on its feet.

Our nom­i­nal hero is Ab­dul Karim

(Ali Fazal), plucked out of Agra to present HM with a com­mem­o­ra­tive coin at a golden ju­bilee ban­quet. Vic­to­ria is deep in de­crepi­tude, but she perks up like a teenager when she claps eyes on Ab­dul. So this is a match made in heaven: the flat­tered old monarch and her ea­ger young lick­spit­tle. It tran­spires that Vic­to­ria is lonely, op­pressed by the royal doc­tor who mon­i­tors her bowel move­ments and the so­lic­i­tous

Sir Henry Pon­sonby (played by the late Tim Pig­ott-smith) who mon­i­tors ev­ery­thing else. She needs a true friend and ap­pears to have found one in Ab­dul, who be­comes her cher­ished manser­vant, as­cends through the ranks and be­gins teach­ing her Urdu. But re­ally, be­yond the ob­vi­ous, what does she see in this guy? Fazal’s per­for­mance is spec­tac­u­larly un­in­ter­est­ing, which might not be his fault – the script by Lee Hall gives him pre­cious lit­tle to work with. More du­bi­ously, the film seems in­tent on cast­ing Queen Vic­to­ria, the bas­tion of em­pire, as some pro­gres­sive out­rider, rail­ing against white racists. Frears has made some great films

(The Grifters; Philom­ena; My Beau­ti­ful Laun­drette) and some aw­ful ones, too (Lay the Favourite; Muham­mad Ali’s Great­est Fight). Vic­to­ria and Ab­dul be­longs with the duds. Xan Brooks

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