Film Review: Victoria & Abdul

Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul is a by-the-numbers comedy drama that offers decent performances from its two leads.

In her later years, Queen Victoria is cantankerous and weary of the constant royal functions. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Abdul, a young Indian clerk who is stacked with presenting her with a commemorative coin…

For those who have viewed the trailer, there is Nothing in Victoria & Abdul that is unexpected. Directed by Stephen Frears with a screenplay by Lee Hall, the film hits the predicted notes in terms of humour, emotion, and archetypes. Frears garners decent laughs in the first half, before a more somber second innings.

The central premise of an odd couple works well, particularly as there is a basis in reality. The burgeoning friendship between the pair is fun to watch. The master (or rather mistress) and servant dynamic is always at play, whether implicit or explicit. As such, the relationship has its charm, yet the fact that it is based on a deeply uneven grounding is inescapable.

Victoria & Abdul makes a number of references to Britain’s ruling of India at the time. Yet the unease at this is only depicted through the supporting character of Mohammed, who seems rather modern in his disdain. Abdul, on the other hand, is the dutiful servant. His unquestioning loyalty makes him seem a little abstract and difficult to fully empathise with.

Race and religion undoubtedly have a role to play in the story. The suspicions and disregard of the household staff appear in keeping with attitudes of the era. There are some references that do seem to be included for modern audiences however. In addition to this, there are other elements that require a suspension of disbelief. For example, Bertie’s involvement in the minutiae seems far fetched. However, the film does admit it is just loosely based on real events.

The screenplay has that quaint British humour that should appeal to audiences that seek out this film. Judi Dench is given more than one stoic speech; the kind we often see from her. In a sense, the film is almost a sequel to Mrs Brown, even making explicit reference to events of that film. Dench delivers as competent a performance as ever. Ali Fazal is also good as Abdul. The costumes are wonderful, as is the set design.

Victoria & Abdul probably will not make any new admirers of the British period drama, but should satisfy fans of this genre nevertheless.