Victoria and Abdul
If this would prove to be Judi Dench’s last film, she would bow out as nobly as Burt Lancaster when he entered the cornfield in Field of Dreams. (1989)
Stephen Frears is an enormously talented director as demonstrated over the years from such memorable films as My Beautiful Launderette (1986), The Grifters (1990), High Fidelity (2000), The Queen (2006), Philomena (2013) and last year’s Florence Foster Jenkins. With Victoria and Abdul, he adds another enjoyable film to his treasure trove of accomplishments.
Taking place at the end of the 19th century, Judi Dench gives a remarkable performance as an aging Queen of England who is fighting both boredom and depression. Helped out of bed every morning by a bevy of female attendants, she faces a male dominated world where one of her greatest pleasures is eating rapidly at daily state sponsored dinners.
Based on a true story, things change for Queen Victoria and her country when a young Indian clerk and a colleague are selected to travel to England to give the Queen a medal commemorating her Golden Jubilee. The Indian’s name is Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), and the British government soon becomes astounded when an unexpected friendship grows between a sovereign and a Muslim lad from another country under British rule.
Though Ms. Dench dominates the screen as expected, it is matched by Mr. Fazal’s performance as Abdul. While he brings a warmth to the Queen’s life that has long been missing, it is astonishing that he has no hidden agenda. In effect he becomes her teacher where he helps her learn the Koran as well as write and speak in his native language.
I must also mention the comic performance of Addel Akhtar, who plays Mohammed, Abdul’s friend. This is a talented, funny actor who previously demonstrated his acting skill in this year’s hidden gem, The Big Sick.
However, led by her alienated son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), the Queen’s staff wants this young Muslim out of London and sent back home. A confrontation grows that creates a drama that will hold your attention throughout the film. In a sense, it is a reminder of how President Trump and his supporters are treating Muslims to this very day.
Above all else, this film brings a warmth and emotional feel that left some in the audience wiping tears away as the movie ended. While Victoria, the longest serving monarch in the history of Britain, saw death approaching, she also knew that she had to say goodbye to a close friend since she alone could protect him from retribution.
This is a film that you simply shouldn’t miss.