Victoria & Abdul Review – Dame Judi Dench and Company Present Perfection

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Victoria & Abdul, from Focus Features and Working Title Films, presents a little known season in Queen Victoria’s reign when she challenged and angered those around her by learning, living and loving and refusing to go quietly into the night.

Directed by Stephen Frears, Victoria & Abdul stars Dame Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Paul Higgins, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Wadham, Robin Soans, Ruth McCabe, Simon Callow, Sukh Ojla and Kemaal Deen-Ellis and was written by Lee Hall based on the book by Shrabani Basu.

Victoria & Abdul begins by setting up the intersection of our two main characters, Queen Victoria, played by Dame Judi Dench, behaving badly, which it has been reported she rather enjoyed, and Abdul, played by Ali Fazal, in India being chosen to present the Queen with the ceremonial coin.

He was given strict instructions not to look at the Queen, and try as he might, for him he was in the presence of Victoria, Queen of England, no small thing for him and could not but meet her eyes. A connection was made and despite the best efforts of her Royal Household staff and Bertie, Prince of Wales, played by Eddie Izzard, the Queen decided, Abdul would stay.

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Abdul before he left India was joined by Mohammed, played by Adeel Akhtar, also chosen to travel to the Queen’s household. Joining Abdul were his wife, played by Sukh Ojla and a child played by Kemaal Deen-Ellis.  

What began as a short term trip for a single purpose began a friendship, and fifteen years of dedicated service.

As Queen Victoria, Empress of India, never had anyone available to assist her with matters of state in India, she bestowed up on Abdul the title of Munshi, meaning  teacher, in Urdu. The two were nearly inseparable and for the rest of the staff, it began as a welcome relief from the bellowing from the cantankerous  monarch.

The film is presented in such a way that it is obvious Abdul is considered lowly, less than in his own country where the cast system separates, there is understood here is not. As an Muslim and an Indian, and due to the color of his skin, members of the Royal Household considered him lowly, less than in his own country where the cast system separates. In England, it was the anger that fueled the hatred of the Queen’s staff.

Soon Abdul was advancing on his own merit, and the sideshow that he was originally thought of as had grown into a deep seeded revulsion, even as Victoria, who did not need to learn anything about India, its people, the cultures,  customs, languages, especially as she was nearing an age where even with the strictest of “my life either long or short” could be forgiven by the people for retirement.

She choose to learn, to live, to grown and that is brought to life with many times over, as Victoria learns about the traditions and customs of India and explained to her Private Secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby, played by Tim Pigott-Smith, that Abdul will be given the title of Indian Secretary.

As the Queen decides she is going to bestow Knighthood on Abdul, the household erupts with the Bertie, Prince of Wales, Sir Henry, and her personal physician, Dr. Reid, played by Paul Higgins, confronting the Queen declaring if she continued on this course of action they would “see to it she was declared insane.”

Victoria & Abdul is perfection. The film, of course, has all the intrigue of Royal history and with all things royal showing up on all screens, and acted so well, and yes, I guess I’m a bit of a fan.

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Ms. Dench, it seems glib to critique the Dame, and as people do want to know, she handled the role of a cantankerous, old, aging, tired, lonely, and very much alone, as the vultures of next in line circle, effortlessly.  

Ali Fazal, whom audiences may not know, played the dedicated servant opposite Judi Dench assuredly. With less than twenty credits and only one other big budget film, he did quite well.

The story behind Victoria & Abdul is real. I thought possibly some of the more surprising scenes, especially after the Queen has passed, were added for theatrical value. The scenes are true. What is surprising is the jealousy that ruled the hearts of these men who had reserved or maternal affection maybe. The desire to rule, when watching the ruler, can seem overwhelming until the transfer of power and lives are irreparably injured.

The cinematography matches what audiences have been treated to lately as various royal productions have highlighted the vast, lush, greenery of the estates owned by the monarch.

Victoria & Abdul is a very interesting piece of history, almost a skeleton in the Royal closet, if you will. After Queen Victoria died, her faithful servant of 15 years, was banished and all remembrances of him stricken..

Victoria & Abdul opens in theaters everywhere September 22, 2017. See it.


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