Film Review by Kam Williams
Brit Biopic Chronicles Unlikely Friendship Forged between Queen Mum and Muslim Manservant
In 1887, 24 year-old Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) moved from India to England where he found work as a waiter at Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) Golden Jubilee. Soon after starting at Windsor Castle, he caught the eye of the lonely monarch.
In fact, she was so taken with her Muslim manservant that she made him her constant companion and promoted him to “munshi,” Urdu for teacher. Not surprisingly, this development didn’t sit well with the royal court, especially her son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard). The heir apparent was not only suspicious of the exotic interloper’s intentions but concerned about the optics of his widowed mum always having a strapping young Muslim at her side.
However, Victoria brushed aside any objections as racial prejudice, and kept Abdul as her trusted confidant until she passed away in 1901. Based on Shrabani Basu’s best seller of the same, Victoria & Abdul chronicles the unlikely friendship forged between her majesty and a doting, devoted subject. Directed by two-time, Oscar-nominee Stephen Frears (for The Queen and The Grifters), this “mostly true tale” revisits the relationship as a dramedy whose comedic elements work far better than its dramatic ones.
Dame Judi Dench, who won an Academy award for playing Queen Elizabeth, is again at her best, here, as an imperious, if vulnerable, Queen Mum. She basically plays an empathetic visionary adrift in a sea of intolerance swarming with British bigots too blinded by hate to begin to appreciate a mild-mannered foreigner with strange customs.
The picture’s transparent message about brotherhood is delivered in too heavy-handed a fashion to take seriously. Nevertheless, the movie’s lighter moments generate just enough laughs to make the movie worth the investment.
A syrupy sweet reminiscence of an enduring, platonic fellowship forged across generational, color, class, cultural and religious lines.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature themes
In English, Hindi and Urdu with subtitles
Running time: 111 minutes
Production Studio: BBC Films / Working Title Films / Perfect World Pictures
Distributor: Focus Features
To see a trailer for Victoria & Abdul, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT2Ph_9bGPs