Victoria & Abdul, B
Rated PG-13, 112 minutes
The glossy new period dramedy "Victoria & Abdul" is predictably funny and touching, while also showcasing one of cinema's grandest actresses as premiere royalty. Its statements regarding friendship and racism are as subdued and sly as the film itself.
Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) arrives from India to participate in Queen Victoria's (Oscar-winner Judi Dench) golden jubilee. The young clerk is surprised to find favor with the queen herself. As Victoria questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance that her household and inner circle try to destroy. As their friendship deepens, the queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes, joyfully reclaiming her humanity.
"Victoria & Abdul" is an esteemed yet humorous and well-acted indie dramedy directed by Oscar-nominee Stephen Frears, of "Philomena" and "The Queen." The two leads, the always impeccable Dench, and Indian actor and newcomer Fazal shine as the two whose platonic friendship and warmth went beyond the lines of race and class. "V & A" is a sequel, of sorts, to the 1997 Oscar-nominated "Mrs. Brown," and Dench reprises her role as Queen Victoria, though here she's in the remaining years of her life.
The film is written by "Billy Elliott's" Lee Hall and is based on the non-fiction novel of the same name by Shrabani Basu, and while the film itself is based on real events and presents real characters, much of it has been fictionalized for the big screen. Still, it gives a good idea of what the relationship must have been like between the two, and there are admittedly some charming, funny moments as the two get to know each other, whether it poring over fruit, hearing the Queen attempt to sing or their extended conversations about everyday and family life.
Dench and Fazal are well-supported by comedian Eddie Izzard and "The Jewel in the Crown's" Tim Piggott-Smith as a couple of people in the Queen's circle, Bertie, Prince of Wales and Sir Henry Pononsby, respectively. Even with some charming moments, "V & A" is most those who enjoy this type of thing, as it plods from one episode to another.
"Victoria & Abdul" has some uneven pacing problems, and some of the issues it touches upon seem fairly obvious, but it's also engaging and well-choreographed by Frears, Dench and Fazal. Worth seeing for another stellar Dench performance, who always makes it look so easy.