VICTORIA & ABDUL Director: Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen, Dangerous Liasions, High Fidelity), starring Judy Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Adeel Ahktar, Eddie Izzard, Simon Callow.
This film surprised and delighted me.
Having found favour with the local British commissioner for a carpet he had selected for the Royal Household, Abdul (Fazal) finds himself transported from India all the way to Windsor Castle to present the Empress herself, Queen Victoria (Dench), with a gift for her Jubilee celebraton.
A handsome, charismatic storyteller, Abdul catches the aged and jaded Empress’s eye and imagination and an unlikely friendship forms that shatters the old queen’s ennui and brings her back to life. There’s chemistry between Dench and Fazal – the source of great dissatisfaction to her alarmed and meddlesome entourage. They’re headed up by Victoria’s heir, Bertie, his outraged sense of entitlement well protrayed by Izzard.
Although this rather delightful film has a touch of the historical revisionism common to recent historical fictionalisations in cinema in its characterisation of one of Britain’s most legendary monarchs, Victoria & Abdul captures also some of the egregious racism of the 19th century, still very Euro-centric Empire. The array of characters in Victoria’s at turns sycophantic, subversive and openy rebellious entourage enrich an already fascinating tableau illustrating the period near the end of Victoria’s long life. Coupled to the gorgeous sets and costumes, this film is highly recommended to Curtin radio listeners.