VICTORIA & ABDUL – Film review


In the late 19th Century, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, ‘Philomena’) was coming to an end. Her health was failing her and she was just going through the motions of her royal duties. During one of her royal banquets she was to be presented with a ceremonial coin as a gift from India. The honour of presenting this gift was placed upon Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, ‘Fast & Furious 7’) and Mohammed (Adeel Ahktar, The Big Sick’), who had travelled all the way from India for this special occasion. Something about Abdul intrigued The Queen and so she asked for the Indians to stay during her jubilee celebrations.

Abdul would become very close to Victoria during his time with her, adopting the role as her teacher as well as her friend. This relationship did not go down well with the household and royal family however, who saw problems with Victoria allowing a Muslim from India so much access.

I really enjoyed this movie. It deals with issues of race, class and age in ways which even now, over a century later, seem all too familiar. The snobbery and intolerance by those who do not think Abdul worthy of The Queen’s time is pitiful.

Although this film does deal with some serious issues, it does it in a very comical way. As far as laugh rate goes this is right up there with the best comedies of the year. Apart from certain moments where pathos is required, most of the movie is littered with jokes.

It’s a charming movie, which should be no surprise given the director Stephen Frears, who has directed things like ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘Philomena’. Yet again, I think he’s done a marvellous job at capturing the period and bringing us a movie where we feel such fondness towards the protagonists.

All round I thought the cast were terrific. With Dench that should come as no surprise. It’s actually her second time playing Queen Victoria following her turn as the monarch in ‘Mrs Brown’. She’s simply brilliant. It’s clearly a character she relishes playing as she shows us both the serious and comical sides of Victoria in her later life. Unlike one article I read, I’d doubt she’ll get an Oscar nomination, however a BAFTA nod is certainly a possibility.

Ali Fazel, who I believe is primarily a Bollywood star, complemented her fantastically as Abdul. His presence clearly brought her joy and gave her something to carry on living for. Like Victoria, I found myself interested by some of his teachings. It was a really good performance.

So many of the supporting roles were also impressive. Adeel Ahktar was hilarious as what essentially was Abdul’s sidekick. The British cast of Tim Piggott-Smith, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Paul Higgins, Simon Callow, etc all had their moments. They’ve all been around for a long time and used that experience to deliver just enough to be funny, without straying into hammy territory.

We are told at the beginning that this is “based on a true story…mostly”. It’s a fascinating story which paints a picture of Victoria I’d never seen before. The miserable, cantankerous, old, fat woman you first learn about at primary school was only one side of her. This film invites us to see the loving, caring, fun side of Victoria, which is something I enjoyed very much.

I’ve read some people criticize this movie by saying that it’s for people who liked ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. Firstly, that’s not a bad film so comparing Victoria & Abdul to it isn’t exactly insulting. Secondly, this film should appeal to anyone willing to give it a watch. It’s very funny, has great performances, is well directed and deal’s with some serious themes. It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a watch to find out.

About Author:

My name is Scott Forbes. I’m from Aberdeen, Scotland. I started The Forbes Film Review as a fun way simply to share my passion for movies with some friends. It’s now become a hobby which allows me discuss the latest films with people from all over the world.

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