Oct 11, 2017

[Movies] Victoria & Abdul (2017) Review

There's a special place in my movie-loving heart for Dame Judi Dench. As is often joked on the Tracy Ullman Show, she's "a national treasure" for her contributions to cinema. She's a brilliant actress, a real class act and  rather skilled at portraying British monarchs for one reason or another.

Victoria & Abdul once again casts her in the role of a Queen Victoria with a focus on her unique relationship with one Abdul Karim. As the movie is presented as a lighter piece of entertainment, it doesn't quite go too deeply into the more negative aspects of this relationship and how the Royal Household responded to his presence.

While not necessarily historically accurate, this move remains an interesting exploration of this friendship and perhaps a celebration of it as well. Fact may be stranger than fiction but unfortunately a strictly historical recreation of events may not get as much movie mileage as possible.

Synopsis: Victoria  & Abdul is a comedy-drama movie directed by Stephen Frears. The screenplay was written by Lee Hall as inspired by the book of the same name by Shrabani Basu.

Towards the end of the reign of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench), two Indian men are sent to London to present the Queen with a coin created in her honor. And while she is bored with the affairs of court, there's something about Abdul (Ali Fazal) that catches her interest. So instead of returning to India after presenting her with the gift, she instead asks that they stay for longer and longer until Abdul is already one of her footmen.

And while Queen Victoria is delighted with her "Munshi", the rest  of the Royal Househod grows increasingly uncomfortable with Abdul's continued presence and the level of comfort he enjoys as the Queen's favorite. And as much as the Queen is enjoying learning Urdu and more about India, the members of the house begin to take steps to ensure the Munshi doesn't rise too far.

What I Liked: Dame Judi Dench is indeed a treasure and a delight in this movie especially given how her scenes range from the Queen being happy and almost childlike to her reminding the world that she is in fact the monarch of the United Kingdom. She carries the movie masterfully and really there's no question that she was the best person for the role.

Ali Fazal was an interesting choice for the role of Abdul, and I suppose a lot of it had to do with his rather striking eyes. His first moment with the queen really capitalized on his ability to convey emotion with those eyes and it certainly went along way. The movie leaves you feel all warm and fuzzy about things regardless of what had really happened before.

What Could Have Been Better: As this movie does not promise to be a fully accurate historical depiction of events, it is easy to feel bothered by the rather sanitized feel to things. Everything is presented through rose-colored glasses as the British occupation of India is a mere side note to things and Abdul himself is the perfect gentleman. While the treatment of the Royal Household was not idea, there were some mitigating circumstances that Abdul had a hand in that helped escalate things as well.

The movie really centers on Queen Victoria and Abdul, much to the detriment of everyone else. Most of the Royal Household is just a generic white blur of motion and you never really get to know any of them and to some extent even the Royal Family is unable to do more than just react and scoff on the sidelines beyond the limited speaking lines given to Bertie, Prince of Whales as portrayed by Eddie Izzard.

TL;DR: Victoria & Abdul is a prettied up view of these events but it still makes for a good movie experience. It's a story crafted to make you feel better about life in gene while exercising a very light touch in terms of addressing the greater controversies at the heart of this story. Thus the movie gets a good 3.5 quirks of Queen Victoria out of a possible 5.

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