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Movie Review: Victoria and Abdul

via filmfares
Victoria & Abdul Movie Review:

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Prince of Wales, Tim Pigott-Smith

Director: Stephen Frears

Quick Take: Fluffy costume drama

Rating: 2.5 stars

When you think about the Queen of England in films you've got to think Judi Dench. With all due respect to Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett, Dame Judi Dench is the one to give Oscar-worthy performances as the English monarch. She's done it with Mrs Brown and Shakespeare In Love and she's done it again with Victoria & Abdul. It’s a pity then, that the movie is such an exercise in fluff that one of Dench's better performances gets lost. This romantic comedy between the Queen and her Indian munshi Abdul is just a flaky costume drama.

The movie traces an unlikely tale, where an Indian peasant from the British Indian empire is sent to England to present Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) an old Indian gold coin. Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) is chosen for this task. Another Indian Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) is a glorified side kick for the job. The two Indians are tasked to give the Queen the gold coin at a ceremony and then beat a hasty retreat. But things get interesting when Abdul and Victoria exchange an accidental glance. Their unlikely friendship and closeness creates a stir in the Queen's household though. An old and haggard Queen and her boisterous Indian servant kick up quite the storm in Windsor Castle.

This film is based on real events. Abdul Karim was actually an Indian back in 1887 who went from being a manservant to being the Queen's personal Munshi aka Tutor. He taught her Urdu and helped the 70-year-old with her daily chores. It was the first time, the British Monarch had taken company of an Indian. Abdul's humble background didn't help with the politics of the situation though. Director Stephen Frears' film builds on this tale. But what seems like a sequel of John Madden's Mrs Brown (1997) turns out like a fickle tea party rather than an insightful jog down history. Where the film makes so much effort to dramatize the character of the Queen, Abdul's role is given absolutely no depth at all. He just remains the opulently dressed Indian who's besotted with the monarch's presence. It’s like a story between a woman of passion, flesh and blood and her cardboard output of a man. It’s remarkable to see such a far fetched tale come alive on the screen, but apart from the novelty of the concept, the film does very little to add genuine drama and insight into this extraordinary relationship.

The production design, the costumes and the settings are par excellence in the movie. But all that visual detail has absolutely no dramatic depth to fall back on. Judi Dench’s commanding performance does hold the film. The actress is 82 and yet her performance has the verve and power to put her modern contemporaries to shame. But everything that Dench manages to do, is undone by the trite fluff being paraded as the narrative of the film. Ali Fazal gives an earnest performance, but he's literally portraying an empty shell of a character on screen. Together Fazal and Dench have some fantastic moments. But their story never quite feels fleshed out.

Writer Lee Hall and director Stephen Frears drop the ball with this royal escapade. Where they could've had a worthy sequel to the delightful Mrs Brown, they present an enchanting story of love and compassion as if it were school girl's essay on visit to Buckingham Palace. There's just no subliminal insight, merely a wide-eyed wonder captured with flimsy awe and bawdy detail. Thank God then, for Judi Dench, who lends respectability to the feature and makes it look a lot better than it actually is. Long Live the Dame!



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