Director: Stephen Frears
Screenplay: Lee Hall
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard
Strengths: Positive message, Light-hearted tone
Weaknesses: Weak characterization, Lack of explanation
PLOT: Queen Victoria, as we all know, was the monarch of the United Kingdom during the 19th century and the much-adored Empress of India. In the film, portrayed by the unparalleled Judi Dench, Victoria is a lazy, out-of-shape, impulsive old woman who seems to no longer have any interest in running her royal duties. She is vastly ignorant about her own court and the extent of her power, and time and time again shows no attention to how her assets are maintained by appointed aristocrats. Her recklessness is doubled by her sudden friendship with Abdul, an Indian Muslim servant sent from Agra, who she soon appoints as her “munshi” (teacher) and gives unprecedented advantages and royal positions to. The queen's unreasonable favor towards Abdul is something her household aristocrats simply cannot tolerate, mostly due to Abdul being an Indian, a race which at that time was subjugated under the British rule. The movie revolves around the growing friendship between the queen and her “munshi”, and the attempts of the royal household to thwart this apparently indestructible bond.
REVIEW: Victoria & Abdul is the sort of film that raises a lot of expectations but leave you sorely disappointed in the end. Then again, with the line “based on true events… mostly” appearing before the first scene, you would expect the creators of the film to have twisted the actual history by a large extent. Historical accuracy aside, as a standalone film Victoria & Abdul has more reasons to be frowned upon than cheered at, and most of those reasons are solely due to how the two titular characters are developed throughout the plot, which, to be honest, is as linear as they come.
The characterization is where Victoria & Abdul mostly fall short at. Abdul is a severely flat character who, since the get-go, is extremely devoted to the British Queen without any explainable reason. His affection towards the queen seems to exist only due to the plot's convenience, which is quite absurd considering this film is meant to be a historical adaptation. The friendship between the two titular characters also happens quite randomly. The film shows no good reason why Victoria finds Abdul so endearing. While she finds immense solace in Abdul's intellectual company, through many remarks made by the queen and an eventual romantic progression, it can also be assumed that she was physically attracted to the exotic charm of Abdul. Speaking of the romantic progression, the apparent mother-son relationship between the two attempt to transcend into the relationship of lovers at one point, something that was not only disturbing, but ruined the otherwise steady flow of the storyline.
The positive portions of this film lie in the anti-racism message. Victoria is always seen struggling to preach anti-racism in the face of her courtesans, who do not mind openly expressing their disgust at the queen's “low-born” Indian Muslim attendant. Considering the turbulent time the story of the film is based on, it's a good moral to back down on. However, in hindsight, the Victoria of the film did absolutely nothing to improve the condition of the Indians under her monarchial rule. She was only ever interested in Abdul, even till her dying breath.
Victoria & Abdul lived up to its genre of a comedy-drama film, despite its many flaws. It keeps a rather light-hearted tone when need be, and doesn't fail to strike the audience with astonishing gravity at times. It does provide decent entertainment as a watchable movie but its glaring negatives certainly leave too much to be desired.
Reviewed by Shams Rashid Tonmoy