Victoria and Abdul is a film directed by Stephen Frears from a script by Lee Hall, of the popular historical drama genre which depicts a friendship between the second-longest-reigning monarch of England and an Indian Muslim.
Based on real events … mostly," is the text at the movie's opening and starts with the encounter between Queen Victoria's (Judy Dench) and Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian functionary sent to Britain to present her with a ceremonial coin. The plot progresses, again largely based on real life, to explore the growing friendship between the two, despite Abdul's lower station and the dissimilarity in both their cultural and religious backgrounds. Much mileage is made of the affront this causes the royal household, family members and politicians whose self-proclaimed superiority will not countenance that such a man should rise above his station.
This film is Judy Dench's second portrayal of Queen Victoria in movie format. Who could forget the wonderful camaraderie between Queen Victoria (Judie Dench) and John Brown in "Mrs Brown" (1997 directed by John Madden ) with John Brown brilliantly and surprisingly portrayed by comedian Billy Connelly. Having won a Golden Globe award for her role as Queen Victoria in this film was Judy Dench angling for a second gong in this one and will she succeed?
Very possibly. Judy delivers a commanding performance of an ageing regent who is a complex mix of curmudgeon and generosity, often depressed but capable of being uplifted into school-girlish happiness in the right company, dour but colourful, conservative yet progressive beyond her time.
Anyone who can play this convincingly in my view deserves multiple nominations for the delivery of such a finely tuned character. Other characters are well portrayed but maybe not as brilliantly, and Ali Fazal does a creditable job in convincing the viewer that such a friendship is possible between an English monarch and a lowly but wise Indian clerk.
The strength of this film is in the beautiful cinematography (take note viewers of the glorious Scottish landscapes) and the deeper messages about how an unlikely friendship can be based on a shared wisdom, a shared sense of service and a shared joy in life. Watch out for Judy Dench's delightful rebuttal when she is accused of being mad by the circling sharks of her political and administrative leaders. This is an example of clever script writing meeting superb acting at its finest.