Victoria and Abdul

While royal watchers and history buffs could nitpick about embellishments and fabrications, Victoria and Abdul proves that such scrutiny isn’t necessary.

This lighthearted period drama represents the latest behind-the-scenes glimpse at a British monarch from director Stephen Frears (The Queen), and what it lacks in meaningful insight, it compensates with charm.

The story chronicles the final years of the six-decade reign of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench), during which she becomes bored with her routine as her health gradually declines. Her titles at the time included Empress of India, which leads to the presentation of a gift by two young Indian clerks during the annual Queen’s Jubilee.

One of them is Abdul (Ali Fazal), who inadvertently catches the queen’s eye and later gains favor with her initially because she wants to learn more about his country, But he eventually becomes Victoria’s closest confidant. That doesn’t sit well with those around her, including her private secretary (Tim Pigott-Smith) and her eldest son Edward (Eddie Izzard), who also is heir to the throne.

The film marks the second time playing Victoria for Dench, who portrayed a younger version two decades ago in Mrs. Brown — to which this film bears some thematic similarities. She later won an Oscar as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love.

Not only does that familiarity reap benefits here, but it adds a layer of amusement when she pokes fun at stuffy aristocratic traditions, such as doting handlers and endless layers of pomp and circumstance regarding Victoria’s every word and deed.

Although it provides some scattered big laughs, the screenplay by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) could use some broader historical context and deeper development of the sketchy supporting characters, whose over-the-top snobbery and mean-spirited dismissal of the outsiders is only amusing for so long.

There’s a hint of contemporary relevance in the film’s message of friendships spanning generations and cultures, and in attempts at inclusion circumventing customs through orders coming from the queen herself. Fazal, a Bollywood actor who had a small role in Furious 7, generates an endearing chemistry alongside the legendary Dench.

Even if Victoria and Abdul feels like a missed opportunity at times, the film is handsomely mounted and spotlights an intriguing historical footnote with flair.


Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.