Film review: Victoria & Abdul starring Judi Dench
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- Published on Thursday, 14 September 2017 15:08
- Last Updated on 14 September 2017
- Monica Costa
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Victoria & Abdul starring an exceptional Judi Dench offers a new insight into the last years of Queen Victoria’s life. It can be pretty lonely being a Queen but Victoria despite her old age felt lively inside and still capable of falling in love. Victoria & Abdul is a great movie and deserves to be watched in a proper cinema rather then on the small screen. My screening was at the newly refurbished VUE Leicester Square with super comfy leather seats. A real treat.
Victoria & Abdul is the extraordinary true story of an unexpected friendship in the later years of Queen Victoria’s (Academy Award winner Judi Dench) remarkable rule. When Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young clerk, is chosen to travel from India and participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favour with the Queen herself. As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to destroy. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity.
Victoria & Abdul is directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) and written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), based on the book Victoria & Adbul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu.
What I loved the most about Victoria & Abdul is Judi Dench’s performance as the vulnerable old Queen Victoria. Her portrayal will have to be recognised with an award as some point as it is authentic and so believable. I’d dare say that this is the best role Judi Dench has ever played throughout her amazing acting career.
Judi’s Victoria is 81 years old and reflects on her life as a mother of nine children and as a grandmother of over 40 grandchildren. Since her husband Prince Albert’s death she has felt alone and has let herself go a bit, and has become “fat, lame and impotent”. She is shown at official dinners eating too much with little grace and then falling asleep. Despite her age and her non desirable appearance, she is can still feel attracted to young men. When she sees servant Abdul presenting a coin from India, Victoria is impressed by him and requests meeting with him privately, outraging her household members, politicians and her own family. This revolutionary way of dealing with servants upsets Victoria’s key figures who start rebelling against her including her private secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby (amazingly played by Tim Pigott-Smith in one of his final performances before his recent death), her ’embarassing’ self-centred son Bertie (played by Eddie Izzard) and Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon).
Victoria appreciated the Muslim servant Abdul (played by charming Ali Fazal) for his personable qualities, his simple manners and his good looks and appoints him as the Queen’s “Munshi”, her personal teacher and adviser, against the will of everybody influential in the Royal affairs.
There’s a lot of humour around the routines the Queen goes through, the ceremonies at state dinners and meetings, and even at a formal picnic on the Scottish Highlands hills. Victoria & Abdul is more a satirical comedy of manners than a love story. The romance between Victoria and Abdul is not really explored and as the audience we are rather convinced that they were only good friends.
The story is also educational from various points of view. On one hand it shows a leader’s real qualities: honesty, vision beyond gossips and peer pressure, common sense, humbleness, intelligence as intus legere (reading inside people) – insightful understanding of human beings.
On the other hand, Queen Victoria shows how modern she was in being tolerant and embracing different cultures, a rare quality that contemporary leaders should be inspired by.
Overall this is a MUST SEE movie both for grown ups and children. It is in fact rated as PG. I cannot wait to watch it again.
London Mums’ rating: 8/10
Victoria & Abdul hits UK cinemas on Friday, 15 September 2017.
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums