Movie Reviews

Victoria & Abdul – A Performance-Driven Biopic

Who doesn’t like Judi Dench? She’s a national treasure who doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

Synopsis: When Abdul Karim, a young clerk, travels from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favor 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. (Focus Features)

Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, and Eddie Izzard

Writer: Lee Hall

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)

Running Time: 112mins

Trailer: 

For showtimes and more, check out Victoria & Abdul on movietimes.com.

Unconventional pairings have been the topic of many films and in that respect, this film is no different but what sets this apart is the historical significance of the pairing. As the film’s title suggests, the story is about a young Indian man named Abdul (Fazal) that forms an unlikely relationship with Queen Victoria (Dench). The title may imply an equal focus between both characters, however, the story was more about what Abdul did for Victoria than the other way around.

Victoria was a queen that was getting older and she was getting bored with the monotony of her royal life. She had pretty much lost the will to go on until Abdul came into her life. What drew him to her probably was that he was an outsider and not like everyone else in her life. There’s no bigger culture clash than India and Britain, each with much different traditions as the film demonstrated, from Abdul’s perspective. He appeared to be over his head but unlike his fellow servant and countrymen Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), he saw this whole opportunity as a great honor. 

The addition of an Indian man within the Royal household prompted fascination by her household and inner circle but as they grew closer, their fascination quickly turned into worry. Because Victoria had mostly lived a sheltered life, she valued his different perspective, making him her spiritual advisor, or “munshi”. As subjects of the British, Indians were perhaps viewed less favorably so their relationship felt unnatural in their eyes. They tried to break them up several times, however, their bond was too strong with Abdul vowing to stay by her side until the end.

Now it could be argued that the film was a little too one-sided in its favoring of Victoria by making Abdul a little too one-dimensional, thus ignoring the India side of the British occupation. The film did a decent job at balancing between drama and comedy but the comedy didn’t always work because of the sometimes caricaturish depiction of Victoria’s Royal household and inner circle.

The best part of the film had to be Dench’s performance as Victoria. She was simply excellent here in her portrayal of an aging monarch with believable vulnerability and regality. She was always compelling to watch thanks to her incredible screen presence however because of this, no one came remotely close to her. She and Fazal had great chemistry and were fun to watch together even though he often took a backseat to her. He was good but either his character was underwritten or he didn’t bring enough with his performance to make him stand out.

Overall, this was a good biopic which fans of biopics should enjoy while offering an excellent performance by the always reliable Judi Dench but might also leave others a little bored.

Score: 8.5/10

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