DATELINE: Raj & Victoria
When Judi Dench plays the grande dame of Victoria Regina, Queen of England for fifty years in her dotage, you have a treat, directed by great Stephen Frears.
Though the film begins with a “mostly” true advisory about the screenplay, we later learn most records were destroyed, leaving us wondering where the truth ends. A Muslim in the royal court in aftermath of Gordon of Khartoum may be more than scandalous, but never discussed in this film.
Victoria & Abdul is definitely fascinating to behold. The tale revolves around the accidental meeting and attraction between the old monarch and a visiting servant whose chance encounter becomes a powerful connection. Ali Fazal more than appropriately is the charming Abdul Karim who like Thomas Becket rises and rises in the royal estimation, to the consternation of those with racist and class snobbery in Victorian England.
Also in the cast, in his last major role, is Tim Piggott-Smith, no stranger to India, as the star of the great series, Jewel in the Crown, some thirty years ago. Here, he is the exasperated Sir Henry who must put up with Her Majesty’s whims.
From a sluggish old woman bored with her long reign, Victoria shows the flashes of her brilliance in later years—facing an onslaught from her royal staff and son Prince Bertie (Eddie Izzard in fine fettle), threatening her with an insanity hearing.
Yet, the story is more often in its start, a comedy of manners, slight and amusing before the more tragic consequences overwhelm the principals. Victoria urges Karim to leave England because she cannot protect him after she dies—and she knows too well the dark forces in the royal household.
Epic tales of the Raj and the British Empire are always perfect material for movies and miniseries. Fans of that genre will not be disappointed with this delightful and moving film.
Ossurworld’s persnickety movie reviews have been collected in several volumes. You can find them on Amazon in paperback and ebook formats for smart readers. Look for titles like:
Worth Your Time?
Is It Real…or Just Another Movie?
Movie Gold or Fool’s Gold.