Dench’s impressive thespian skills are so completely without question, you’d see any movie she was a part of. Surely.
Reprising a role she first enjoyed 20 years back in Mrs Brown, Dench once more calls upon Queen Victoria’s regal bearing in Victoria & Abdul. And she toenails it.
A disagreeable sovereign by the end of a very long reign, Dench imbues Queen Victoria’s every moment in time with interpretation, as she rediscovers enjoyment and companionship within an unlikely friend.
Based on a genuine story, the relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim was mainly lost to the vagaries of their time until some 50 years after her death. And it wasn’t before unearthing of his journals some seven years ago have a fuller picture emerge.
Now Dench has reunited with her Philomena director, Stephen Frears (The Queen), to bring justice to the storyline.
In preparation for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Abdul (Ali Fazal), an amiable jailhouse clerk in Agra, a city in India, is recruited to sail to Great britain with another Indian man, Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), to present Victoria with a ceremonial gold coin. Abdul was only chosen because he was the tallest prospect in sight, and has a good eye for carpets.
Defying palace tradition and tight instructions to never look the majesty in the attention, Abdul catches the attention of the curmudgeonly Queen. She can take an immediate preference to him, a man in such comparison to the tedious court participants that encircle her.
It’s not long before she elevates him to the role of “Munshi” (a educator) once Abdul starts off to coach her in Urdu. Jealous, xenophobic and fearing the undue influence of your foreigner, Victoria’s court docket representatives and her kid and heir Bertie (later Edward VII) makes their displeasure known and Abdul becomes the mark of any vicious smear marketing campaign.
The movie oversimplifies Victoria and Abdul’s relationship and the hostility towards him from the judge, underplaying any political clout he yielded in the Queen and her handling of her Indian affairs. It also doesn’t dig much into his ambitions and motivations, which seems such as a disservice to the type.
Instead, it emphasises their friendship and the jubilance she found in his company. The real-life Victoria got said that she was “so very fond of him, he’s so good and gentle and understanding and is a real comfort if you ask me”.
While that marriage is the crown jewel of the film, it doesn’t scratch below the top. It misses the chance to really explore the opposition to this unconventional pairing, instead chalking it up to 19th hundred years racism. One suspects the reality was less reductive than that.
There’s also something without the treatment of the Mohammed personality, stranded in Great britain because of Abdul’s needs when he desperately wants to come back home.
But all the is almost by-the-by because Dench’s commanding occurrence overrides everything else.
Victoria & Abdul is in cinemas today.