Victoria & Abdul is a biographical comedy-drama film directed by Stephen Frears and is based on the book of same name by Shrabani Basu, about the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim. It stars Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith and Adeel Akhtar.
The Story/The Direction:
This film is about the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (Dench) and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim (Fazal). Karim is brought to England to present Her Majesty with a ceremonial coin and she becomes struck by his demeanor and appearance. She eventually has him teaching her Urdu and he provides companionship as she has been lonely since her husband's passing. Due to their prejudices to both Indians and Muslims, this relationship concerns her court and family.
Frears tells this story of race, class and out-sized privilege that is both historical and contemporary that unfortunately feels authentic. As with Frears's past films, The Queen, Philomena, and Florence Foster Jenkins, the film looks fantastic. The costumes and the gorgeous looking environment really shows Frears's technical expertise to make a film.
Dench is at her best here returning to a role she played twenty years ago in Mrs. Brown. If you were a fan of her previously, this film will have you adoring her once again. This film allows her to be absolutely brilliant as the Queen two decades after first playing her in Mrs. Brown. This film has been said to be essentially the sequel to that film as well and Dench seems to know that as well. Fazal does pretty decently as Karim and there is some great chemistry between him and Dench. The rest of the cast does decently in their roles but the star of this film is Dench.
The main flaw with this film is its treatment of the Abdul character. With the title, the film seems to say the story will be about the both of them. However, that is not the case and it mostly focuses on the former than the latter person. The film does show the Queen in a good light as being this monarch who befriended this Muslim Indian during a time where they were looked down upon. She is this apparent champion against racial attitudes, however, historically this was not the case at least not in the truest sense. She may have befriended this person when people told her not to but that's really it. This film takes place during the Raj era where a lot of India and its citizens were oppressed by the English and this continued many years after the Queen's passing. Clearly, this friendship did not do that much for the racial injustice that happened. While at the time the Queen did not have much political pull, this film's message of treating people equally seems more towards current Islamophobia seems misguided as nothing really came of this friendship. Abdul is played decently by Fazal and is shown as an intelligent person but he is the "whatever Her Majesty wants" type unlike the hard worker that he actually was. In addition, towards the end of the film, Abdul becomes more a symbol of this anti-racism instead of an actual character.
While the overall message is good about treating people equally no matter the race/ethnicity/religion, it seems a little lackluster due to its attempt to appeal to current events than to show what actually happened. At the end of the day, this film sort of treats Abdul as that person a racist person uses to say "I'm not racist. I have one [insert person of color] friend." Even with those flaws, this film still has a brilliant performance by Dench and shows that she is still one of the best out there. It may not be an award-winning performance but it and the film's decent though somewhat misleading message is enough to see this good film once.
Rating: 3.0/5.0 bowties
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