- Movie Rating -

Victoria and Abdul (2017)

| September 21, 2017

If you’re familiar with the John Madden’s wonderful 1997 historical biopic Mrs. Brown – the story of a friendship between the mourning Queen Victoria and her Scottish horseman – then Stephen Frears’ Victoria and Abdul is likely to either feel like a sequel or a strange remake.  The territory is the same.  Queen Victoria is old, Prince Albert is dead, and her majesty is lonely.  Oh!  And the queen in both films is played by Judi Dench.

The difference is that while the previous film felt like a great, meaty historical character study, this one feels like a light dessert.  It takes place many years later when the Queen is quite elderly, snores at dinner, abandons her table manners.  She is also frustrated by the constraints of her position, and that’s why the arrival of a beautiful man from the east, an Indian prison clerk named Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who is plucked from obscurity and brought from Bombay to Buckingham Palace to her Golden Jubilee to deliver a home-spun trinket.  Karim immediately breaks centuries-old protocol, kissing her feet without permission, but she is taken by this man.  She likes him, and they hit it off.

What lies in their union is a friendship that she hasn’t had in years, largely spurred by the fact that everyone else around her is afraid to deal with her on a personal level.  They see her as a fixture to the crown and not as a person.  We sense that her union with Abdul is bringing her a larger view of the world at large, a humanity coming from corners of the world that she only thought she understood.

Victoria’s friendship with Abdul is quite lovely and it brings the old girl a lilting spirit that she hasn’t had in years, which matters not to her relatives and hangers-on who are displeased with her association with this. . . this foreigner!  Actually, the plot dealing with the court of disapproval is the most tiresome thing about this movie.  It weighs too heavily against the relationship (in Mrs. Brown is was the other way around), and so that movie plays the disapproval note over and over until the ending which we can see coming (it is both overly-sentimental and aggravating at the same time).

This is a nice movie with some good performances.  Dench, of course, seems to have turned playing British monarchs into a cottage industry.  Newcomer Fazal is very good here too.  But I couldn’t get Mrs. Brown out of my head.  That film was so much better, so much more insightful, so much more grounded.  Victoria and Abdul is a good, nice movie but that’s about it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2017) View IMDB Filed in: Drama