Victoria & Abdul
Drama, Biography, History
IMDB rating:
Stephen Frears
Simon Callow as Puccini
Sukh Ojla as Mrs. Karim
Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim
Paul Higgins as Dr. Reid
Ruth McCabe as Mrs. Tuck
Julian Wadham as Alick Yorke
Robin Soans as Arthur Bigge
Judi Dench as Queen Victoria
Fenella Woolgar as Miss Phipps
Eddie Izzard as Bertie, Prince of Wales
Adeel Akhtar as Mohammed
Michael Gambon as Lord Salisbury
Tim Pigott-Smith as Sir Henry Ponsonby
Olivia Williams as Lady Churchill
Storyline: Abdul Karim arrives from India to participate in Queen Victoria's golden jubilee. The young clerk is surprised to find favor with the queen herself. As Victoria questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance that her household and inner circle try to destroy. As their friendship deepens, the queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes, joyfully reclaiming her humanity.

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Royal carry-on
Very much a 'companion piece' to MRS BROWN (1997), this cosy piece of royal hagiography finds the Old Girl nearing the end of her reign, her health and her hearing in decline, curmudgeonly and sorry for herself. The arrival of a humble but handsome Indian clerk at Bucking-ham Palace brings a sparkle to her fading eyes. The rest of the court are aghast as Abdul slips swiftly into the role of latest (and last) Best Friend, the role previously – and a lot more cavalierly - occupied by John Brown.

Re-casting Judi Dench as Her Majesty gives the story continuity as well as a degree of credibility, though this is rather obviously a small moment of monarchy stretched into a full-length comedy-drama. Even playing a frail old biddy, Dame Judi is at full throttle, calling to mind Edith Evans's unforgettable Lady Bracknell and Bette Davis's Elizabeth the First as much as other portrayals of Queen Victoria. Ali Fazal is as beguiling as he needs to be, although his grumpy companion Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) steals many of their scenes, playing Sancho Panza to Abdul's Quixote. Tim Pigott-Smith's swansong as the head of the royal household has a pantomime grandeur to it; and Michael Gambon's Lord Salisbury and Eddie Izzard's Prince of Wales bring gloriously camp echoes of the Carry-On franchise, as - especially - do Olivia Williams's Lady Churchill and Simon Callow's cameo as Puccini.

Directed with great verve, wittily scripted and sumptuously produced, this is a charming - and touching - slice of ho-hum history.
A marvelous film in every regard
I should have expected that in these divisive days mainstream press reviewers would all pan this film because it amounts to a favorable depiction of British colonial policy in India and elsewhere. One reviewer referred to the British imperial era as "occupations" of the colonies, deliberately using a word that this same element would never use in, say, describing post-WWII Soviet "occupations" of Eastern Europe.

The film is a personal study. It depicts Abdul as an aspiring man, who appreciates and admires Britain. He was not servile, because anyone - of any color - in that era would have been required to be similarly "servile" to the Queen of England. It depicts Victoria as the complicated woman we know her to be - she was in this sense the last of the old monarchs and the first of the new. Her reign began just 18 years after that of George III (the "American Revolution" George III), and ruled long enough to last into the lives of people like my own great-grandmother. The world changed significantly in that 64-year span of time, and the era could only have produced a monarch as fascinating and complex as Victoria.

Here too is the first multi-cultural friendship to take the world stage. Lost on the reviewers. Here is an ascendant Indian, well-educated precisely because of the British. Lost on the reviewers. Here is a Queen interacting deeply with the Indian, an actually "diverse" friendship. Lost on the reviewers.

This is, in the end, a capture of our civilization at a point in its history. There is a reason that western civilization is the dominant civilization in the world - for its emphasis on Liberty, Liberalism (the traditional kind, not the corrupted modern kind), and Opportunity. And the British Empire played an outsize role in shaping today's world.

Victoria and Abdul is a capture of that. An excellent one.
Fun, But Lacks Depth
Victoria and Abdul is the "'mostly" true story of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and a Muslim Indian, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Karim is sent from India as an emissary, and the Queen is taken with him and his easy personality, treats him with favor, and bestows honors on him. Her family and attendants, especially her son Bertie (later to be Edward VII, played by Eddie Izzard), dislike him and his influence and try to discredit him with the Queen.

Dame Judi is fantastic in this role. She plays ailing, grouchy, and old to perfection, then lights up the screen with grace, majesty and strength. It would not surprise me to see her win awards for this performance.

Fazal was also wonderful in his role as sweet, endearing, devoted to the Queen. However, his part was not three-dimensional--he was too perfect, too servile. The viewer was left wondering what made Abdul tick, and what his motives were.

In addition, the story (which covered the 15 years of Karim's service to the Queen) was short on plot. It was, instead, a string of tableaux in which both featured, but without their relationship developing or maturing. Furthermore, the portrayal of Queen Victoria as a liberal-thinking woman was, I think, colored more by wishful thinking than historical accuracy.

I did like the film, though. It is cute, sweet, and at times, funny, with a positive message of tolerance and equality. It was enjoyable to watch, but the lack of depth to the plot kept it from being fully immersive. The cast (supporting cast included) were all excellent, as mentioned. Overall, it's an fun light movie, but not one to rely upon historically.
Sweet take on colonialism
It is quite remarkable that back in 1997, Judi Dench earned her first Academy Award nomination as Queen Victoria in the British drama Mrs. Brown. Twenty years later, her career comes full circle as she reprises the role in Stephen Frears' Victoria & Abdul. Focusing on her twilight years, the queen has grown to be a self-confessed cantankerous and dispirited woman - a narcoleptic who struggles to stay awake during an honorary lunch. It is a role that's surprisingly stripped of vanity and to think that Dench will give something less (after having played the role before), her insanity speech towards the end tells that it would be unwise to rule her out in the coming Oscar season.

If strictly taken as a comedy, this film bears a positive message. We witness one of the unlikeliest friendships to go down in history - Queen Victoria and an Indian peasant named Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) whose sole business in England is to deliver a ceremonial coin as a token of gratitude for her reign. Next thing we know, the Queen has taken a liking to the servant and he quickly gains rank in the household from a servant to her personal munshi(i.e. spiritual adviser). "Everybody I love die and I just went on and on. What is the point of all this?" the queen cries to which Abdul responses with, "Service, your majesty. We are all here for a greater purpose." It is actually quite beautiful to see two worlds colliding, a moment when the audience briefly forgets the concept of imperialism. No race, religion or culture is subordinate to another when it comes to changing one's perspective in life.

However, the problem with having this jaunty theme is that it operates on a subject matter that can never sugarcoat colonization as... adorable. Albeit colonialism is considered to be a relic in the past, its offspring racism remains to be prevalent in the society and others can easily take this film in the context of "whitewashing British imperialism". The Queen's bond with Abdul may be more of a mother-foster son relationship, but this again is susceptible to misinterpretation. By treating Abdul as the Queen's "exotic pet", what does he gain apart from the great privilege of serving her? Is the special attention enough to make him oblivious to the horrors of British colonialism? The fault lies on the two-dimensionality of Abdul as his motives are not fully-fleshed. Abdul's Indian friend complains that the British empire has done little favors for their country so where does his puzzling devotion for the Queen truly come from? Abdul has always been presented in a cheery perspective but the film never really traces back to his domestic life to justify this disposition.

Lee Hall's script is on the account of Abdul's journal found only in 2010 and it will be a stretch to paint the whole story with that source material alone. The film acknowledges its limits as the opening disclaimer confesses, "based on true events.. mostly." Viewers are expected to take everything with a grain of salt. When the film starts to show that it can't even get its facts straight - the Queen's secretary blurts out, "But mangoes only grow in India!" (Uhm… mangoes grow in most tropical countries too!), the authenticity is further reduced. I am inclined to believe that more elements of this film might be fictional than what I expected to.

Victoria & Abdul is worth seeing for its impeccable costume and production design, its leads' endearing chemistry and Frears' delicate directorial touch. It aims to be poignant yet refreshing as it is more invested in laying out the dynamics of imperial households than tackling more serious topics on hand. Perhaps the film works best if treated as a satirical revisionist period piece, otherwise it just settles for a crowd-pleaser that gives the perception that colonialism is oh-so-charming when in reality, it is anything but.
Not quite extraordinary, but still an absorbing tale of an unlikely friendship
'Victoria and Abdul' appealed to me straight away, being someone who likes-loves a lot of biopics, considers Judi Dench a national treasure and who has liked several of director Stephen Frears's films. While it is not a perfect film, let alone quite an extraordinary one, 'Victoria and Abdul' generally did not disappoint and tells the tale of an unlikely friendship very absorbingly.

As indicated, there are a couple of things that don't quite come off successfully. There were instances to me where the knockabout comedy was a little too enthusiastically written and delivered, particularly in a few of the imperial members of the court and their attitudes (occasionally teetering on the near-patronising). Simon Callow has fun as Puccini, but the man is presented somewhat as a caricature that could have been toned down.

There are also instances of the dialogue being a touch too modern, Bertie does have moments of clichéd dialogue that takes one out of the setting somewhat and borders close on making too much of a pantomime villain. 'Victoria and Abdul' has been criticised for the politics, the portrayal of the title characters and the portrayal of colonialism being too generous, or "white-washed", as pathetic as this may seem that wasn't as big a problem to me, being not as knowledgeable in those areas, regarding the characters the performances were too good for that to be considered a problem to me.

However, 'Victoria and Abdul' has a lot going for it. It is a beautiful film visually, the cinematography has a warm glow and boasts hues that give off a nostalgic quality. The costumes and locations settings are vivid and sumptuous. Thomas Newman has shown many times that he can write hypnotic and understated scores that evoke rousing and emotive qualities, he brings those qualities fabulously here. Stephen Frears directs with a gentle touch and keeps things as lively and compelling as possible.

Frears and screenplay writer Lee Hall (although as said the script is not always perfect) also do a good job balancing comedy and drama and making the characters interesting (even if some are more developed than others, personally found the titular characters very vividly depicted while a couple like Puccini are underdeveloped). Most of the comedy is genuinely funny, wonderfully mischievous and slyly pointed, particularly in the first half where some of the lines make one laugh out loud. The comedy is balanced beautifully with a more serious, but not jarringly so, second half that soars in pathos and emotion that does tug at the heart strings. The ending is very touching.

Story-wise, this unlikely friendship and relatively unknown chapter in the relatively late stages of Victoria's life/reign is absorbing, going at a lively pace while maintaining a gentle and well balanced tone. The lack of depth is more than made up for in the sweet chemistry between Dench and Ali Fazal, the comedy and drama and that the film is uplifting and poignant in equal measure.

Judi Dench as expected is magnificent, achieving an achingly vulnerable and spirited portrayal which helps make Victoria easy to relate to and remarkably real, despite any misgivings people have of how she is written in context in the story. Ali Fazal matches her very well, he is very charming and loyal and gives the character an intensity and gentle charisma, don't agree about him being too servile, too eager or overly wilful though can understand that for him being a little too twinkly.

Michael Gambon and the late Tim Piggott Smith are very good too, and Callow has fun although Puccini doesn't quite work. Eddie Izzard has to work with the least flattering and one-dimensional depiction of Bertie Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) imaginable, but remarkably he fits well and gives everything to his performance, remarkably just about preventing the character from being too much of a pantomime villain despite how the role is written coming dangerously close (the dialogue doesn't always do him justice).

Overall, absorbing if not extraordinary. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
A delightful movie
I have to be honest that when I heard about this movie, I was not expecting much but after viewing it I was completely taken by surprise. It's a delightful movie where Queen Victoria befriends an Indian and an unlikely friendship begins to form between the two of them.

The chemistry between them is a joy to watch supported by two great performances by both actors especially by Judi Dench as the Queen who really shines above the rest of the other cast who do an excellent in their supporting roles.

The flow of movie is well paced with both comedic and drama moments balanced perfectly throughout the whole movie. Kudos also to both the costume and production design where the viewer is able to admire the beauty of art in their forms.

To conclude, I would recommend this movie to anyone who is interested in a good story that contains both dramatic and humorous moments in it. Word of advice : don't take the movie seriously and don't divulge too much historical facts to be able to enjoy it.
Very good acting, little else.
I'm a bit lost on why Dench did this film. It certainly was a wealth to work with in context of the character.

But the script was very much historically inaccurate. The direction was poor and the editing choppy.

Billed as the relationship between the Queen and Abdul, it actually asked you to take their word for it and then focused on the redundant conflict between their relationship and the rest of the household. There were only a few cursory scenes between the two and their interactions that felt laborious with no chemistry. If they supposedly had such absorbing conversations, they never depicted them.

What little I subsequently read, it was very clear that extensive historical inaccuracies were boiled down to an essentially fictional account compressed into a relatively short span vs. the long period that it did take place. Abdul, as depicted, was supposedly selfless and devoted. History actually said he was very selfish and opportunistic, which would be line with reality being that the British Empire was no friend of the Indian people. Thus, a selfless Indian devotee of the Queen would be bizarre.

One oddity that stood out to me was Mohammid's death. In the film, Mohammid wanted to go back to India but ended up in England 'til his death due to the weather. No explanation why he would not have been permitted to return and why Abdul would not have facilitated that. It didn't happen like that in real life, though.

The direction was poor as there was no ebb and flow to the dialogue and interchanges. Most parties were speaking with the same rushed rhythm and tone. I had the feeling that the production was very much rushed and these good actors could do the best they could. I don't want to detail such, but the editing was choppy at best.

One of the warning flags was early on when they teased showing the Queen's face, over and over. Then when they did it farted out as it was at a distance and hard to see her face. I expected some sort of distinct appearance and a look of dejection from Dench.

Miss it. Not worth it. If you are a junkie for this period, you might sort-of like it.
Judi does it again
What an amazing movie, Judi is as usual, such a wonderful actress portraying Queen Victoria once again. The story line is fantastic and it flows beautifully. This would have to be the best film for me this year. I love how they made this film so funny, and yet so touching. I laughed and I cried all the way through.
Brilliant - I haven't laughed so much during a film in ages.
I wanted to see a different film, and was a reluctant viewer, but I'm so glad I got to watch this. The cinema was mostly empty, other films such as The Kingsman were fully booked. I can understand why, the plot didn't appeal to me and the cast seemed uninspiring. Its anything but.

For the first hour or so, I was in tears of laughter and joy. Dame Judy Dench is as amazing as ever and seeing Eddie Izzard was a real treat, perfectly cast as the Queen's miserable son, but it was the actor who played Abdul, who brought the show to life. His relationship with Victoria wonderful and her rebirth from a dying queen a joy to watch. There's lots of political questions this film raises, such as racism, the class system, the British Empire, not to mention Old Age and how we help our Elders. The film doesn't deal with these directly and some of them are ignored all together, but then it doesn't need to. The relationship between Victoria and Abdul gives enough pause for thought, to see where the problems lay and the mistakes of our past.

Go watch it. You won't regret it and just maybe you'll get to see a film, the rarest of rare that touches the soul. Beautiful.
Another impeccable British historical drama with another venerable icon of British cinema.
Another impeccable British historical drama with another venerable icon of British cinema. What more can be said? Lots, actually. While Victoria and Abdul (2017) looks like more nostalgic self- indulgence wrapped in sumptuous period settings, it is also a cutting critique of British colonialism, a satire on aristocratic pomposity, but most of all, a bitter-sweet comedic story about the loneliness of being a Queen.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) has been monarch for 50 years and her boredom with royal occasions is palpable. Coincidence and luck leads to a lowly clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) travelling from India to present her with a medal in grateful recognition of British colonial rule. Court etiquette requires that one must never look at the Queen and to retreat backwards after addressing Her Majesty. When presenting the medal, the curious Abdul cannot resist a peep; their eyes meet, and Victoria is instantly charmed by the tall, good-looking Indian who appears so human in contrast to court toadies. She summons Abdul and soon he is her constant companion and mentor, much to the disgust of the racist lackeys who fawn for her favour. The relationship would last 15 years, during which time Victoria learnt about Indian language and customs. She developed a genuine sympathy for the nation over which she ruled as Empress of India.

While labelled a drama, the treatment is distinctly comedic. Court manners and customs are low- hanging fruit for mockery, and caricatures of court sycophants are all too easy to construct. But the humour masks the deeper layers of the story. Until she met Abdul, Victoria knew nothing of India and shared Britain's official contempt for this unruly land and its ignorant masses. Imperialism carried a divine right to rule over lesser humans and it was only through Abdul's influence that Victoria developed sympathy for the nation and its problems. The relationship with Abdul is also one of the most liberating experiences of Victoria's long reign and helped overcome the loneliness of royal isolation in her senior years. Judi Dench portrays this emotional transformation with extraordinary power: no living actress can match her imperious gaze. Her face has become more transparently expressive over her long career and even a miniscule raising of an eyebrow can speak volumes. The new spring in an old lady's step, the twinkle in her eyes, the firming of her voice, all tell of the universal pleasures of connecting with another human, irrespective of any age divide. While Ali Fazal shares star billing, his aura is inevitably overshadowed by Dench. His greatest contribution to the film is being able to portray ambivalence between being just another sycophant or an innocent with genuine fondness for the Queen.

Historians will no doubt finds things to dispute and that is their job. As cinema, however, this is as good as historical dramas get. The script has a contemporary feel that makes the dialogue relevant to many of the racial issues we face today. The filming alone makes the movie worth seeing, offering a delightful tour of grand palaces and glimpses of courtly life in 19th Century England. While the British have made many such films, it's hard not to enjoy Victoria and Abdul.