Victoria And Abdul

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Victoria And Abdul
"Judi Dench has become the living embodiment of fine acting, so much so that it is easy to take her for granted. Don't even think it!"

The sense of deja vu and the invasion of www.windsor.org into the box room of your brain does the opposite of wonder when it comes to this latest royal-com. When is deference and the faintest whiff of satire going to be outed as a camp conspiracy? Queens are everywhere, especially on TV.

Hush awhile. This is not a sequel to Mrs Brown. Dame Judi played Victoria against Billy Connolly in the original. Now she's back, but times have changed and the lady is in no mood to accept grace and favour as an essential part of her role as Ruler of the Empire. She is old now, old and tired. Her retinue of well bred sycophants bore her stiff. Albert has been dead 30 years. She misses him terribly and with the Scottish gillie in his grave she has no friends she can talk to.

Copy picture

"We are all prisoners."

Abdul (Ali Fazal) is brought over from India with Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), a disgruntled cousin who considers the English way of life barbaric and the weather unspeakable. He has been chosen to present the queen with a special coin celebrating something or other at one of her banquets. The whole thing is ridiculous.

"Stand still," he is instructed. "Walk backwards. Never look her in the eye."

He ignores the last part and the old lady recognises something in him, something outside his pantomime costume, a glint of humour perhaps. Quite soon he has filled that space in her affections left vacant after John Brown's death.

There are similarities between the two storylines but the films are very different. Mrs Brown attacked the courtiers that surrounded the queen, exposing them as snobbish power players. Second time around it is racism that appears rife amongst the established order. Not only is Abdul a Muslim. His skin is a different colour. And his wife, when she appears, wears a burqa.

Stephen Frears made The Queen with tongue in cheek. Here he comes closer to Carry On Up The Khyber. Lee Hall's script takes Victoria's posh entourage apart. Even the queen calls them "stupid aristocratic fools" and her son Bertie (Eddie Izzard in cracking form) "a disaster". Her infatuation with Abdul, if that is what this is, seems entirely understandable when faced with the alternative.

Simon Callow as Puccini is a one-song wonder. Michael Gambon as the Prime Minister wears prejudice on his sleeve with serious intent. Tim Pigott-Smith, in his final cinematic outing, as Sir Henry Ponsonby maintains a subtle comic presence. Akhtar knows how to whinge in two languages and Fazal has the looks and the charm to make his royal relationship entirely believable.

Dench has become the living embodiment of fine acting, so much so that it is easy to take her for granted. Don't even think it! Her performance as Victoria in the evening of her reign is not a reboot of Mrs B without make-up. It is riveting and unique and lifts the film above its entertainment grade into a position of genuine respect.

During the final credits they show a black-and-white photograph of the queen and the real Abdul. Bit of a mistake.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2017
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Queen Victoria's friendship with a young Indian clerk.

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Lee Hall, based on the book by Shrabani Basu

Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Adeel Akhtar, Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Simon Callow, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Wadham, Benjamin Haigh, Ruth McCabe, Lasco Atkins, Jonathan Harden, Deano Bugatti

Year: 2017

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK, US


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