At a time when there’s a growing inclination to judge people more so on their appearance than the person within, comes the pertinent tale of Victoria and Abdul, of the treasured friendship with the Queen herself, and a working class man from India, as a real life story given the Stephen Frears treatment in this predictably congenial British drama.
Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria, who first meets Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) when he presents her with a gift during a banquet in Buckingham Palace. Having been flown over with his beleaguered compatriot Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), Abdul strikes up a strong relationship with Her Majesty, as she becomes fascinated by his culture and background. Though given he’s a Muslim, there are growing concerns from within the palace – and in government – that she’s damaging her reputation, yet the more adversity she receives, the more determined she is to make Abdul feel completely welcome in his new home.
There’s a pleasant, comedic edge to this production, with a consistent sense of self-deprecation, and ridicule of the upper-class society. Though witty, Victoria and Abdul never truly transcends it’s gentle tone, where you feel it could’ve gone deeper, instead opting to be more light, with an inclination to play it all rather safe.
But thanks to wonderful casting this period piece comes to life. Dench, as expected, is just wonderful in the title role, implementing such a warmth to the character at hand, yet comes equipped with a stubborn demeanour that ensures she’s not someone you’d quite like to cross. It’s certainly a role you can tell she’s played before. She elevates this production with such a blissful sense of curiosity which is endearing. Fazal also impresses, with a playful energy about him – but he’s not been dealt a nuanced enough character, with a lack of character development where Abdul is concerned.
There are questions raised as to the source material – given this is based entirely on the journals of Abdul – but when taking it purely as a piece of cinema there is plenty to be admired. Victoria is so often celebrated for her marriage to Albert – with a popular London museum named in their honour – but it seems there’s another ‘A’ now for us to consider, as the tale of Victoria and Abdul is one an intriguing, uplifting one. Just a shame it’s been so generically executed in this instance.
Victoria and Abdul is released on September 15th.