Say what now?! This is a sequel?! *Wikipedia search* Well skin me alive and call me naked, this is a sequel! Specifically to the film MRS. BROWN (1997), and Judi Dench is reprising her role as Queen Victoria. I guess if you wanted to make another movie about her and her wacky adventures in her later years, why not make it a sequel? Oh, and it’s also based on a book? Jeez, this Queen certainly gets around in media.
The story looks like it’s about Victoria and she’s become tired with her life and role. But then she meets a young Indian servant and the two strike up a friendship, asking him to teach her all about his culture and reinvigorates her love of life. But it comes at a cost. Her peers start to think that she’s lost her mind, playing nice with a servant. Hence the conflict. It looks like it could be decent and anything Dench touches is golden, so I’m all on board.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Judi Dench (TULIP FEVER , CASINO ROYALE , SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE , and the upcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS ) and Ali Fazal (FURIOUS 7  and 3 IDIOTS ). In support, we have Eddie Izzard (ROCK DOG , ACROSS THE UNIVERSE , and THE AVENGERS ), Michael Gambon (KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE , THE GOOD SHEPHERD , and SLEEPY HOLLOW ), Tim Pigott-Smith (JUPITER ASCENDING , V FOR VENDETTA , and CLASH OF THE TITANS ), Adeel Akhtar (THE BIG SICK , PAN , and THE DICTATOR ), and Olivia Williams (MAN UP , PETER PAN , and THE SIXTH SENSE ).
Now for the crew. Directing is Stephen Frears, known for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016), THE QUEEN (2006), and HIGH FIDELITY (2000). Penning the screenplay is Lee Hall, known for WAR HORSE (2011) and BILLY ELLIOT (2000). Composing the score is Thomas Newman, known for PASSENGERS (2016), WALL·E (2008), THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), and the upcoming THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Danny Cohen, known for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, ROOM (2015), and PIRATE RADIO (2009).
Overall, I’m very curious. Not super hyped, but call me eager.
This is my honest opinion of: VICTORIA & ABDUL
Set in early 1900. Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) is still a revered queen, now serving as the longest running monarch in history. However, she’s grown tired of her position. Her loved ones have passed on and she’s become both apathetic to her own appearance and position. But all of that changes when she meets Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian servant, who eventually becomes Victoria’s closest friend, teaching her of Indian culture and slowly regains her love of life, despite the deeply rooted arguments from her staff.
This was a really good movie. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
The movie opens on a pretty humorous line. “Based on real events” pause for a second, “… mostly.” This movie had me at “hello” and I was already giggling.
However, and this is pretty consistent for the first half hour or so, the movie loses its momentum. There’s clichés, like the intro of the protagonist running late for work, and the movie isn’t all that funny for awhile. I mean, some gags land, like when a servant tries to wake up Victoria, but all she does is groan. I thought that was hilarious. But for awhile, the humor really falls flat. Hell, fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes into the movie is when the title of the movie appears. That was weird. Why bother by that point?
Having said all that, there is a… I’m not sure how to describe it, but a level of engagement to Dench’s performance in the beginning. She’s so tired, possibly bored, and gives zero shits about everything that’s going on around her. She eats at her own pace, forcing her peers around her to eat quickly, or else their food will be taken away.
About the only saving grace in the film’s comedy in the beginning is Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), who coud have so easily been that panicky hysterical character that no one likes, but for whatever reason, his exaggerations of what he believes the English do in their spare time is so funny. He does get a little grating later in the film, but he has a bad-ass scene that makes up for all of it.
But honestly, after that first half hour of lackluster comedy, the laughs, as well as the story, pick up immensely. Abdul is impossibly charming and likable. You immediately feel for Victoria and everything that she’s lived through. All of her loved ones are gone and all that’s left is her position and her ambitious and unlikable children who want her power. But meeting Abdul, she learns to find happiness and learns about the Indian culture. There’s this infectious chemistry that Dench and Fazal share, an energy that constantly makes you smile as he describes the Taj Mahal, or teaches her Indian languages and how her eyes light up as she learns, it’s such a beautiful connection that they share. At some point, Dench’s performance gets a little hammy, but it’s so brief that you almost have to remember that it gets there, and it’s not like it isn’t explained (she gets a little drunk), but this is what makes up the entire movie: their friendship and it is really heart-warming to watch just how much she defends him despite all the criticism from those around her.
As much praise as I have with the film, there are a couple elements that I complain about.
A smaller issue is that we never see enough of Abdul and Mohammad interacting. Every scene they share is Abdul being excited, and Mohammad being nervous. We don’t see enough of the two actually being friends. Sure, that would take away from the focus of the relationship between him and Victoria, but it still would have been nice to dedicate a five minute scene of the two men really interacting like friends.
But the bigger issue I took was Abdul’s wife. I believe her involvement in this story is pure fluff. We don’t see hide or hair of her, or even get a single reference to her existence until the one hour mark, and even when she does show up, for all the build-up to her, she barely contributes to the story. Sure, sure, you could argue that it’s all a set up to learn about Abdul’s… procreation issues, or whatever that was, and Victoria’s council to try and get him sent back to India, but I feel like this is where creative liberties would have been needed and find something more sensible to get that kind of information.
Also, there were two incidences that involve Victoria being upset with Abdul. One being when she discovered that it was Muslims, or another Indian group that I can’t remember, were at the head of some revolt that took the lives of British soldiers and then later for another reason that I can’t remember either. All I remember is that these two scenes were resolved as quickly as they were introduced and happen pretty close to each other, so I kept wondering why the writer didn’t just pick a problem and go all the way with it, or combine the two problems into one dramatic scene.
Overall, I really liked this movie. The core characters are ridiculously wonderful to watch and hang out with, it’s funny, dramatic, all around fun for anyone even half interested in this story. I highly recommend this in theaters. It doesn’t have the widest of releases, so you may need to really look for it, but I say it’s worth the effort to see in theaters. History’s most unlikely friendship is arguably one of its most endearing.
My honest rating for VICTORIA & ABDUL: a strong 4/5