Victoria & Abdul Movie Review
Some people like to watch the world burn, and Judi Dench is one of them. At age 137 and blind as a bad, she continues to show up to movie sets and deliver impressive performances, the latest being in Victoria & Abdul, a pleasant drama about Queen Victoria and her Indian confidante Abdul who draws the ire of Victoria’s closest advisors and family.
Far from groundbreaking but well-made nonetheless, Victoria & Abdul accomplishes what it was designed to do, be a vehicle for Dench and tell an interesting story along with it. The movie may not win awards but it’s worth seeing if you’re into movies about old British people, and there is certainly demand by a certain segment of the population for movies about old British people.
Ali Fazal delivers a fine performance as Abdul, but while the movie begins with him as the audience’s eyes, it quickly becomes clear that he’s just along for the ride. He has great chemistry with Dench, which is important, but as soon as she shows up the movie pivots to her and rarely looks back, focusing on her defiance of custom and propriety to bring Abdul into her inner circle, never mind the racism of those around her. This is all fine and good, except Fazal and his character never get to do much other than smile and put up with all the shit going down around him.
Director Stephen Frears (The Queen), working from a script by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse), builds a solid film around Dench. Colorful and with colorful characters, Victoria & Abdul marches along at a steady pace, a mix of lighthearted drama and small bursts of humor. It’s an enjoyable expire.
What holds it back from being something more is a general disinterest in adding complexity to its characters. Victoria is a saint—one can imagine her progressive opinions of an Indian man in the late 1800s were not as progressive as we’d expect today—and Abdul is wide eyed and naïve, rarely if ever reacting to the blatant racism and anger directed toward him. It would nice to see him more aware of his situation, and see him react accordingly.
Though it’s not the deepest of films, Victoria & Abdul is a satisfyingly entertaining drama that boasts a strong performance by Judi Dench and an interesting, true-life story. And the world burns...
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.