One of my more anticipated films of the month surprisingly, Victoria & Abdul looked to contain a charming little tale that few had previously been aware of. Only within the last few years have the details of it even been discovered. And with Judi Dench reprising her role from Mrs Brown (not this Mrs Brown…) making this a bizarre sequel of sorts, I was hoping to have an uplifting time at the cinema. And, all in all, I did.
Our story begins with a lowly prison clerk called Abdul, played by Ali Fazal, who happens upon a chance to travel to Britain to deliver a gift to the Empress of India, a now quite elderly Queen Victoria. Upon meeting, Victoria decides to employ the man as her servant and as they begin to interact, they become quite close, much to the chagrin of those in the Royal Household.
Performances top to bottom are fantastic. Dench and Fazal have wonderful chemistry and really bring the queen and her servant to life. Playing the same role over twenty years later might seem like a daunting task to most actors but the Dame is of course one of the greats and she shines through. They are both introduced very well so we instantly know what these characters are like at this time in their lives. Some of the other performers are also great including Eddie Izzard, Paul Higgins and Tim Pigott-Smith in his final ever role and he goes out with real finesse. Michael Gambon plays a good role as the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, and I must not forget the work of Adeel Akhtar who plays Abdul’s Indian accomplice, Mohammed, and who does some stunning acting against big names.
The story is a very nicely told one too with great comedic moments and covers themes of racism and the class system, both in Britain and India, in a very nice way. This is not a story full of happiness and there are so distinct sad moments within the true story, mostly deriving from the conniving members of the household. Perhaps the struggles to get rid of Abdul were a little repeated as I did feel I was being hit over the head with the fact that the staff and Royal Family did not like him.
This is a great true story film though and one that covers all of the emotions in its runtime. There are some moments that feel a little repetitive but the brilliant character work and fascination with the tale unfolding will keep you interested, particularly with the relationship between Dench and Fazal. Get watching.