Movie Review: Victoria & Abdul
Victoria & Abdul, inspired by events in Queen Victoria’s later life, stars Judi Dench as the long-reigning monarch. The film was directed by Stephen Frears, known for The Queen and Philomena, and was written by Lee Hall. Ali Fazel co-stars as Queen Victoria’s Indian Muslim servant, Abdul Karim. The film also boasts the acting talents of Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, and Michael Gambon among several other notable names. The film follows the course of Victoria and Abdul’s unlikely friendship from the late 1800’s to 1901.
The film begins with Abdul Karim reporting to his job as a prison clerk in Agra, India. He is chosen to present a token to Queen Victoria at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. He and Mohammad (Akhtar) travel to England for the affair and receive strict instructions of where to go and what not to do. An elderly Queen Victoria is tired and bored at the Jubilee until she makes eye contact with Abdul. She is intrigued by him and over time engages in a friendship with the young man. She asks him to teach her Urdu, and from there their friendship blossoms, much to the chagrin of all the Queen’s household. The film follows the ups and downs of their friendship and the interferences of the British Royal Household along the way.
While the story presented has some historical discrepancies, I found the film to be quite enjoyable. Dame Judi Dench is absolutely delightful as Queen Victoria, and Ali Fazel is charming as the young and eager Abdul. Their performances are outstanding, and those two especially make the film worth a watch. Dench captures Victoria’s cantankerous nature but also captures the loneliness she feels at that point in her life. She had lost her husband, at least two children, and countless friends by that stage of her life, and Dench captures all of that pain in her powerful performance. Fazel’s warm smile and excited chatter also endear him quickly not just to Dench’s Victoria but also to the audience.
The film follows not just their friendship but also highlights the British political climate. Victoria is not just the Queen of England; she is also the Empress of India and many other territories infiltrated by the British. The film touches on the brutality of the colonization but never really digs into that non flattering part of history. It does showcase just how firmly Abdul was not accepted by the royal household and just how prevalent prejudices were against other cultures and those of lower socioeconomic status. It also delves into the loneliness that power can bring with Victoria not afforded many personal relationships or private moments due to her position.
No matter the historical imperfections, though, this is an engaging story that warms the heart in several moments. At the end of the day, it is a story of two people from vastly different backgrounds who develop a sincere love and respect for one another. Victoria comes to learn a great deal from Abdul about his culture and religion, and she comes to treat him as a son. Abdul in return benefits a great deal from their relationship, but it is their bond that makes this story so touching. Victoria & Abdul won’t be a great box office success, but those who are intrigued with the life of Queen Victoria and the British monarchy should find the story fascinating and at times challenging.