“Victoria and Abdul” the biographical film about Her Majesty’s controversial affair with an Indian servant was, to be frank, mediocre at best.
It is difficult to overlook the lackluster approach to comedy and the poor representation of class divisions in a film that was supposed to embrace and celebrate diversity; it’s reminiscent of a Rodgers and Hammerstein King and I: it’s just not funny.
The film follows Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who arrives in England from India to participate in Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) golden jubilee. Karim is to present a gift to the Queen without making eye contact with her. His disobedience to rules opens the door for their unlikely relationship to unfold, much to the dismay of the royal family and all of the Queen’s staff. The mystery and the aberration of this pair’s affiliation are by no means boring, but the ebb and flow between comedy and drama falls flat in this film. Perhaps this issue could have been resolved in making “Victoria and Abdul” a documentary, in part because it only seemed to get better during the end credits.
These credits expound upon the gaping fact that it took researchers and devotees over one hundred years to discover evidence of their relationship. Woah! That’s your story. Not the blossoming friendship, which is only saved on screen by the grace of Dench, who pulls off the Queen’s likeness admirably. The intensity that would have gripped audiences could have been found in the documentation of what happened afterward.
I do digress, however. Stephen Frears is a fantastic director. In fact, I would go as far to say Frears (at his best) rivals the best Hollywood has to offer. But I cannot ignore the fact that this film doesn’t work. The story is unsuitable for three-act screenplay structure and there is no looming conflict until—as I mentioned before—the film is over. Additionally, there were sloppy cuts, poor lighting at times and CGI-effects that distract even the non-attentive eye.
All this being said, there were some redeeming qualities in the cast. Judi Dench is masterful in her role. Her poise and cutting remarks shine so far above the body of work that many moviegoers will be drawn to theaters near and far for this alone. More surprising, however, was the performance of Adeel Akhtar who also played an Indian servant. His comedic moments were the only ones of the film that landed. Equally as funny in “The Big Sick,” which released earlier this year, Akhtar helps lift this film up as it comes slowly crashing down.
“Based on real events … mostly,” is what the opening credits read. If you can get past the fact that the film presents a “mostly” real story stricken with laughable material then it may be enjoyable. To any end, it has its moments.