John Caldwell Reviews 'Victoria & Abdul
This film may be set in the early 1900’s but it’s important to realise early on that while authentic, it is far from feeling like some dreary and old film. Rather, it’s every bit as powerful as any modern day romance film.
Victoria and Abdul chronicles the story of Queen Victoria played by Judy Dench during the later years of her reign, showing yet another role that there is simply no other actor on the planet who could have nailed it like Dench.
A frail, bitter, and old Victoria is on a sliding slope living out her last days of duty as bound and miserable. Although her character is snarly and hard as rocks, it soon becomes evident that there is a soft center trapped beneath a lonely and tired old lady.
Apparently, the film is partly a re-make and partly a sequel to the 1997 film starring Dench along a similar vein. The story then was around the widowed Queen being lifted from depression by her servant John Brown. Personally, I chose to ignore this aspect of the film enjoying this one for all it has to offer.
Without ruining the plot, the Queen comes across an Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who is sent to present her with a gift. It’s really the introduction of Abdul that brings the first glimpse of a human in the Queen. Ali Fazal is simple and delightful in this role, doing incredible justice to the memory of Abdul. I use the term romance loosely as it’s hard to exactly describe the relationship between Victoria and Abdul. However if there’s one thing for sure, their relationship was very special and a complete joy to watch.
Some might describe the film as a rom com and others as a full blown comedy, based on the many laugh-out-loud moments and cracker one liners, I would lean toward that too. However all one liners and ‘LOL’ moments aside, the film also has a serious side and deals with some serious underlying tones of racism, ignorance, and snobbery that at times can be heartbreaking and infuriating. The irony of how far we haven’t really come since the 1900’s isn’t lost on me either.
Directed by Stephen Frears, the director of The Queen, you are treated to a sophistication expected from such a film without losing the comedic edge. Lee Hall, the screenwriter of Billy Elliot, has ensured that there is wit and charm benefiting both the characters and the leading lady, Dame Judy Dench.
If I had any criticism it would be that during the middle of the film the story line seems to be on repeat and could potentially be considered a little boring in parts. Safe to say, the incredible acting and delightful comedic undertones take care of that. Also, about two thirds of the way through I was certain my review would have to advise that whilst interesting, charming, funny, and emotional, the film didn’t quite hit the high note I had hoped for. But WAIT! Because almost at that exact moment and throughout the rest of the film, it did hit the high notes and then some.
The last third of this film is extremely powerful and I challenge anyone to tell me they didn’t have a tear in their eye. How they packed the real punch towards the end of the film rather than the cliché tugging of the heart strings all the way through was actually quite powerful.
The introduction to the film impresses that it is based on true events ‘mostly’, which whilst cute leaves you questioning what was actually real? For many this is a great opportunity to imagine the truth however you want, for me it resulted in frantic googling and a history lesson - either way, a great outcome!
All in all a fabulous film and well worth the watch
4 thumbs up