I will say, Victoria & Abdul has an excellent opening sequence. Abdul Karim (Fazal) is a simple bookkeeper for a rug factory in India. He's called upon to travel to London and present the elderly Queen Victoria (Dench) with a special coin, but he is to retreat the room quickly. In a gorgeous setting, bright with lavish colors, filled with servants, and delectable foods, her majesty speeds through the five course meal, frankly because she can't stand the pampering. When Abdul presents the special mint, the two lock eyes, and because he looks up to the queen, he kisses her feet, creating a hilariously gentle, but awkward moment for everyone. It happens to be an event that starts a beautiful friendship.
The script is written by Lee Hall (War Horse), who reels the audience in with a mixture of humor and plenty of dramatic lines for Dench to chew on. The Oscar winning actress has played Queen Victoria on three separate occasions now (Mrs. Brown; Shakespeare in Love), so naturally she is the best thing going for this film. Her performance, at this point of her career, is more than worthy of high praise, as she brings a natural grace to a role that is much more complex than just wearing period piece costumes. Victoria & Abdul is at it's best when the two leads share friendly one-on-one moments, away from the chaos of others, allowing Dench to deliver monologues that make her regal character more human. Victoria asks Abdul to teach her about his culture of India and language- Urdu, prompting her Majesty to bring him on as her full-time “Munshi”, which is an Indian version of an advisor. This does not sit too well with others that are part of the Royal cabinet.
When the story moves away from Abdul earning Victoria's friendly respect, and focuses on the animosity from her son Bertie (Eddie Izzard)- who wants to rid the man from the palace- the film starts to stall in it's place. The cinematography of Danny Cohen often highlights the beauty of the extravagant sets and costumes, but it's not enough to feel the wind come out of the stories sails. The friendship takes a back seat, Abdul's character is not developed into a deeper person, and the supporting cast stands around snickering at the pairs happy connection. What starts with promise, turns into a plodding routine of British drama.
The story of Victoria & Abdul filled with rich aesthetics and another stellar performance from Judi Dench. I'm recommending the film on her work alone; it's worth the price of admission. It fails, however, at delivering on much of anything else. What starts as a promising tale of opposites finding friendship, becomes a glossy crowd pleaser lacking in depth. Dench takes the crown, the rest of Victoria & Abdul fails to reach to her level.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: VICTORIA & ABDUL
STARRING: JUDI DENCH; ALI FAZAL; EDDIE IZZARD; MICHAEL GAMBON; OLIVIA WILLIAMS
DIRECTED BY: STEPHEN FREARS
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Victoria & Abdul is about a platonic friendship that blossoms between a person of royalty and someone viewed as a lower citizen. This story proves to be a perfect example of how humans can learn from one another, no matter what our status is. Director Stephen Frears (The Queen; Philomena) has produced a career making successful films of this nature, about opposites finding comfort that they couldn't find from the family that surrounded them. The initial witty charm of Victoria & Abdul is lovely, with an adorable rapport between Judi Dench and newcomer Ali Fazal, but the performances are the only saving grace for a script that loses its way in the second half.