Judi Dench is revisiting the character of Queen Victoria here. Though it is at a different period of her life it is once again from the perspective of her relationship with a man. This time it is not a romantic relationship (though there is love there), rather it is a pretty unexpected friendship rather late in her life. Unexpected and frowned upon. Just with that description alone you can understand why should would put on the crown and elaborate gowns again. A woman of such talent and experience you may wonder why she would portray the same woman. The answer is in the story and the fresh new take on this powerful woman. An opportunity to show a different side of her.
A young clerk from India named Abdul (Ali Fazal – Fast & Furious 7, 3 Idiots) travels to England to take part in Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench – Mrs. Brown, Notes on a Scandal) Golden Jubilee. A small part. Or so he and his fellow Indian representative Mohammad (Adeel Akhtar – The Big Sick, The Dictator) thought. Something about Abdul catches the Queen’s eye and fancy. Soon he is staying on in England with her as her teacher or Mushi. Queen Victoria thirsts for new experiences and knowledge. Wants to do something she has not done before during her long reign. So, with Abdul ‘s help, she begins to learn about the Koran and learning to speak Urdu.
Needless to say those around her like her eldest son Bertie (Eddie Izzard – Ocean’s Thirteen, Across the Universe) are besides themselves about this situation. Bertie, mostly because he thought his elderly mother was dying and he would be ascending to the throne in short order, and Victoria’s household staff because they feel they are being pushed aside for a foreigner. The staff and Bertie jump to trying to derail this relationship…pronto.
Being one of the biggest sure things in the film world, you can pretty much bank upon the fact that Judi Dench is going to be a delight to watch upon the big or small screen. Whether she is playing Queen Victoria or M in James Bond movies or Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride & Prejudice you know you are getting something you will remember. No matter the quality of the film itself. That is true about Victoria & Abdul. While this is not the strongest film (though it is not a terrible one by any measure) she is still a wonder to watch. Every film she is in is like a master class of acting. The woman just gets on with it and brings the story to you from the perspective of whatever character she is playing. She does not take the shine off of any character she takes on. It is presented warts and all. Her Queen Victoria is a strong minded (even stubborn), pompous and sometimes crass woman. But a woman who leads. A woman who is strong while at the same time she allows herself to be vulnerable with Abdul. We get a peek behind the curtain of royalty and in particular this woman who sat on the throne in Great Britain and all its confederacy for over 63 years. We learn more about her courtesy of Judi Dench’s talent and deftness with the character.
This is also the second kick at the Queen can by director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, Florence Foster Jenkins). He also directed Helen Mirren in The Queen, a film about the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth. Obviously the man is interested in the subject matter of the royal family. He feels there is still some exploration to do. Surprisingly, not only does it have its typical British period drama moments there are also moments which are very funny. Comedy can be found within the seriousness of it all. Just like life.
Lots of the drama seems rather timely in 2017/18. This was a very powerful white woman being educated by a man of colour. Unheard of in those days, but as the film portrays it, Queen Victoria did not really give it a second thought. Rather than being threatened by or scared of the “other” she learned from him. Pretty progressive. Something that we seem to have forgotten today. We have reverted back to being frightened of peoples of different cultures.
Some might be offended by the comedic moments in that the film never really addresses the whole colony issue that is underlying the story. The fact that the Queen of England had many other nations underneath her. Nations she knew nothing about nor even visited. The Empire, as it was, is not one of England’s most glorious moments in its history. That beings said, the film does not really even pretend to address this issue. It is not the focal point of the film and that is okay. To every story there is different sides and Frears’ film wants to focus on just the interpersonal relationship between the two. Some still might criticize it for its glossing over of the racial issue.
In the hands of Stephen Frears not only is the film educational, but beautiful to look at. The costumes, sets and landscapes are sumptuous. Cinematographer Danny Cohen (Room, The Danish Girl) photographs everything so beautifully and really services the story being told.
- Judi & Ali
- The Look of Victoria & Abdul
- Digital Copy