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Film Review: Victoria and Abdul

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British director Stephen Frears returns with another charming tale of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a prison clerk from India.

Having worked on titles such as The Queen, Philomena, and Florence Foster Jenkins, Frears is no stranger to finding the unknown amongst the mainstream, and Victoria and Abdul is no different.

Set at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and still titled as the Empress of India, the Queen who has lost all zeal and enthusiasm is given a new lease for life when she meets the intriguing (but perhaps more importantly), tall and handsome Abdul Karim.

Originally being sent to England to present Queen Victoria with a Moghul coin, there is an instant chemistry between the pair who spark up a beautiful and touching friendship.

However, not before long, the pair are met with much disapproval from the rest of the household, and in particular from Victoria’s son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard).

Much of the intrigue surrounding the film stems from the fact that this is a largely unknown story, and presents a different side to Queen Victoria than the one many people have previously seen.

After growing attached to the man who soon becomes her munchi (teacher) Abdul, who teaches her Urdu, and more about the country which she is Empress of, we see a side to Queen Victoria which saw her at one of her happiest points in life right at the end of her reign.

The historical drama is best described as charming in all senses of the word. The narrative structure itself is quite underwhelming but still engages throughout, and set in the real life locations where Queen Victoria resided including the stunning Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight, the film exudes authenticity and immerses us in the tranquillity of much of Queen Victoria’s time with Abdul.

Frears' direction of the film proves that he was definitely the best candidate to take on Lee Hall’s impressive script. Both Hall and Frears faced away from the heavy, typical period drama and instead show us a Queen Victoria we can identify with.

However, the masterful portrayal of Queen Victoria is undoubtedly credited to Judi Dench who, having played Queen Victoria already in the 1997 Mrs Brown was certainly the right casting choice. This portrayal of Victoria required something a little extra which Dench flawlessly brings to her performance.

Victoria’s unapologetic intrigue into all things from and concerned with India, as well as her delightful humour and unusual quirks is pulled off fantastically by Dench, who goes above and beyond the predictable portrayal you would expect to see of a 19th century English Queen.

Credit must also go to the fantastic Ali Fazal who not only brings a real level of intrigue and authenticity to his role, but who had a palpable connection with Judi Dench in their performances, which translates on-screen and presents a touching relationship between Victoria and Abdul.

With Thomas Newman’s score playing over this as all the action unfolds, all the components work seamlessly together in this film.

The only downside is that the narrative becomes predictably repetitive. Once is it made clear that there is great disapproval of this unusual relationship, there is not much more to do with the narrative, which does lessen the drama and it is ultimately what contributes to the film’s overall tame nature.

Nevertheless this isn’t necessarily what the film is about; Victoria and Abdul’s relationship clearly resists in the face of great opposition, and this is what is engaging, and this is the central narrative.

By no means a revolutionary depiction of a chapter in a royal history, Victoria and Abdul is still charming and thoroughly enjoyable thanks to the capable and creative hands of Stephen Frears.

Victoria and Abdul is due to be released Friday 15th September, distributed by Universal.

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