Victoria & Abdul
Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigott-Smith
Genre: Drama, History
Country of Origin: UK-USA 2017 106 mins. (U)
Released by Universal Pictures
In 1887 Queen Victoria, Empress of India weary of the tedium of royal duties catches the eye of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) who's been selected to present a ceremonial coin at her Jubilee banquet in England. Formerly a prison clerk in Uttar Pradesh, Abdul is appointed Victoria's 'Munshi' and it's not long before he's teaching her Urdu, reading from the Koran and describing the delights of tropical mangos.
Adapted from Shrabani Basu's book with accepted dramatic licence, Lee Hall's screenplay offers little more than a superficial glance at what is a fascinating and true story. As expected Judy Dench plays the ageing Victoria with consummate ease but there's no Billy Connolly/John Brown around this time. It's Abdul's smiling face but no insight into the character. Who is Abdul? Predictably Victoria's courtiers have the knives out for the 'Munchi who has charmed Victoria and has her favour to the virtual exclusion of others - Abdul is her friend. Bertie, Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) who's on the long wait for the Crown leads the charge, Sir Henry Ponsonby (the late(Tim Pigott-Smith) plots, Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon) has a 'seen it all before' look and amusingly Dr Reid attends to the royal colon which is in desperate need of attention. A great cast, eye catching cinematography (Danny Cohen) and a fascinating story of an extraordinary friendship, but there's little to grip onto. The mango arrives, but it's also off.