A film about an unusual friendship is always an intriguing one. These films have been done before, such as the Academy Award winning ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ in where an elderly lady befriends her African American chauffeur. Nonetheless, a true story based on Queen Victoria and her Indian servant, Abdul Karim in 1897 is even more captivating due to the controversial subject matter of racial bigotry and her royal advisors being horribly judgemental. After strict advice from Abdul’s superior to not engage in eye contact with the Queen when serving her, the beginning of wonderful friendship forms once he irresistibly breaks the ‘no eye contact’ rule.
Queen Victoria played by our beloved Dame Judi Dench, strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim, played by Bollywood actor Ali Fazal. The chemistry is superb between both actors that Oscar nominations are worthy for both individuals. However, it must be noted that the Academy would love to add a best leading actress Oscar to Dench’s ‘Shakespeare in Love’s’ supporting statuette. Dench’s performance is on top form and arguably her best to date. She is obviously terrific at playing queens: IE, Elizabeth I to Victoria in ‘Mrs. Brown.’ One can argue that Victoria and Abdul’ could be a sequel as she’s playing the same character, only older.
Her portrayal of Queen Victoria makes the viewer think she’s heroic, protective and yet vulnerable due to her old age. Fazar’s Abdul has the same qualities as Dench, that this is what makes them a perfect match. Be that as it may, Abdul’s vulnerability will be his Indian ethnicity living in the midst of the British invasion.
The cruelty that he encounters along with his Indian colleague Mohammed, played by British Asian Adeel Akhtar, is demoralizing as we see other servants shut them out of their after parties. Akhtar is excellent and has truly worked his way into the film industry from ‘The Big Sick’ and ‘Pan.’ His character Mohammed is possibly based on the animated canine character of Droopy with his speech and mannerisms. He brings the comedic element to this gem of a film, then his character results in complete sorrow for the audience to shed a tear.
Stephen Frears has directed another cultured film that is worthy of Oscar nods compared to ‘The Queen,’ ‘Philomena’ and ‘Florence Foster Jenkins.’ He has a distinctive direction where his films are serious, yet gentle to the eye. His target audience is for all viewers, yet has a knack for pulling in the more senior citizens. Frears has captured the period well and has shown an honest truth to how atrocious the British were to Indians during the invasion. Victoria and Abdul’s relationship is a beautiful one, and the audience is appalled to see how their friendship would lead to a monarchy crisis. But then again, to see Dench or more rather Victoria defend Abdul against the bigotry, makes the viewer admire her all the more as she does it with passion. Frears has directed touching scenes of Abdul teaching Victoria Urdu and Indian culture. They show that they are simply there for each other which is the main attribute to a friendship.
Lastly an interesting standout to the film was Eddie Izzard playing Bertie, Prince of Wales. Izzard has played him to be cruel, callous and villainous, that it makes the viewer want to investigate whether the Grandfather to our current queen was really a bigot or was possibly jealous of Abdul’s friendship with his mother. Overall, a very charming and captivating film that will catapult Ali Fazar from Bollywood to Hollywood.
Aly Lalji | [rating=4]
Drama, History | UK, 2017 |PG | 15th September 2017 (UK)| Pathe Distribution | Dir.Stephen Frears | Judi Dench, Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard,Simon Callow