Director/ Stephen Frears (FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, PHILOMENA, THE QUEEN)
Stars/ Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigott-Smith and Eddie Izzard
It took over one hundred years from its occurrence for this true story to be publicly told. Based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Shrabani Basu, VICTORIA & ABDUL is a comedic drama about an unlikely friendship that came to fruition.
Reprising the role she previously played in the 1997 biographical drama MRS BROWN, Judi Dench again reigns supreme as Queen Victoria during the late 1800s. Bored and disinterested in her daily affairs, her Royal Majesty takes an instant liking to a tall, dark and handsome servant named Abdul (played by Ali Fazal), who broke the number one rule to not make eye contact with his Queen. Over several years, Abdul, who is a Muslim Indian, and Queen Victoria, begin to form a close bond, which causes quite a stir among her family members and close associates.
The honest story of a genuinely remarkable and beautiful friendship is tarnished by the intrusion of an unnecessarily high supply of seemingly fabricated and overplayed farce.
Right from her opening scenes, where her Royal Majesty is having a royal snore before sloppily dining a meal fit for a king, VICTORIA & ABDUL deliberately enforces an undeniably featherweight tone. These frequently occurring, yet infrequently funny scenes go too strong on the slapstick, diminishing much of the inherent class and worthiness befitting of the film. Its misguided attempts to be too comedic become less of a problem as the developing friendship gains the traction it deserves. The screenplay’s realisation and revelation of the value that Abdul is bringing to his Queen’s life, who is having her mind opened just as much as her heart, and Judi Dench’s excellent performance do keep VICTORIA & ABDUL as close to the film experience it ought to be, even if sometimes the trajectory of their friendship is a little unclear, and even rather uncomfortable. As they grow closer, the nature of this film transitions to become a more poignant one, yet without much of the effect intended.
Though undoubtedly let down by its screenplay written by Lee Hall (writer of BILLY ELLIOT and WAR HORSE), VICTORIA & ABDUL is also a major disappointment from an experienced director who has previously handled a regally depicted movie with sophistication and class in the past.
2 ½ stars
Viewer Discretion/ PG (mild themes and coarse language)
Trailer / VICTORIA & ABDUL
Moviedoc thanks Universal Pictures for the pass to watch and review this film.
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