20 years ago Judy Dench was nominated for her role as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, a retelling of the Queen’s unconventional relationship with her Scottish groom. Victoria & Abdul is almost a sequel to that film. In it she develops another unorthodox friendship, this time with a handsome, young man named Abdul who has come from India to England for her Golden Jubilee. Initially hired as a waiter, he quickly becomes her closest confidant and teacher (Munshi), which doesn’t sit well with her family, nor with her government. The film opens with “based on real events – mostly”, and it is that vein that you should view the history in it. Go for Dench’s performance and the warm story.
Abdul (Ali Fazal) begins the film in India as a clerk in a prison, but out of the blue he’s chosen to go to England for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee simply because he is tall. He and fellow Muslim Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) are to deliver a ceremonial coin to her and then return home. But Abdul catches her eye. At this point in her life, Victoria is sad and resigned to a lonely life, but Abdul is a breath of fresh air. And before you know it, he’s teaching her Urdu and sitting with her as she does her daily affairs of state. But in doing so, she’s stepping all over protocols and pissing off all her inner circle. They even call Bertie, her eldest son and heir to the throne, to try and get him to bring her around. But she knows her power and is at a point in her life that she doesn’t care who is upset. She and Abdul are such close friends, she gives him a house and servants and has his wife brought over from India.
There are hiccups and tensions in their friendship, and at one point she senses he has betrayed her trust and nearly cuts him off, but she relents, and he is with her until the end of her life. Director Stephen Frears (Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena) is a master at female characters. His Victoria is funny, sad, powerful, and warm. And of course Judy Dench gives another stellar performance as the Queen who just wants to have fun and has zero f*cks to give. I went with my mom who thoroughly enjoyed it. And I recommend it for people looking for something not too taxing, but warm-hearted.
If you’re looking for a history lesson, this is not the one for you.