MOVIE REVIEW: Victoria and Abdul's storytelling is a stretch

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in a scene from the movie Victoria and Abdul.
Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in a scene from the movie Victoria and Abdul. Peter Mountain

A LONG time after John Brown... came Abdul Karim.

There are echoes of Queen Victoria's "inappropriate" relationship with her gallant Scottish servant in this autumnal postscript to Mrs Brown (1997), based on the true story of the long-reigning monarch's unlikely friendship with an Indian clerk.


But if the courtiers were upset by the undue influence exerted by one of their own, imagine how they reacted when a Muslim infidel usurped their places in the Queen's affections.

Where the first film, directed by John Madden (Shakespeare In Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) took a fairly straightforward biographical approach to its subject, Victoria and Abdul plumps for a heightened, quasi-satirical register.

This allows Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) to touch upon some of the potentially ugly ramifications of the story without becoming too entangled by them.

Michael Gambon and Judi Dench in a scene from the movie Victoria and Abdul.
Michael Gambon and Judi Dench in a scene from the movie Victoria and Abdul. Peter Mountain

His previous project, Florence Fosters Jenkins, about a tone-deaf heiress who funded her own Carnegie Hall concert, was similarly surface-skimming.

Both films appear more substantial than they are thanks to tour-de-force performances from their heavyweight stars.

Reprising the role of Victoria two decades on, Dench's ageing, disillusioned monarch is every bit as meaty as Meryl Streep's vain, entitled dreamer.

The actresses embrace their characters' flawed humanity so forcefully, their creations teeter, at times, on the edge of grotesque.

When Victoria and Abdul opens, Dench's septuagenarian Queen has pretty much given up the will to live.

In the morning, four or five servants are required to haul the morbidly obese monarch out of bed.

She nods off during official lunches and her table manners are so gluttonous, it's enough to put everybody else off their food.

Abdul (Ali Fazal), who travels from Agra to England to present her with a ceremonial coin, represents novelty and exoticism.

Ali Fazal and Judi Dench in a scene from the movie Victoria and Abdul.
Ali Fazal and Judi Dench in a scene from the movie Victoria and Abdul. Peter Mountain

In his presence, she rediscovers an appetite for life.

Of course, it helps that the interloper is tall, dark, handsome and extremely charming.

Before long, she has appointed him as her Munshi, or teacher.

The courtiers, who have Abdul pegged as an opportunistic charlatan, are determined to reveal his true colours.

But not even her personal physician's revelation that Abdul is riddled with gonorrhoea causes Victoria to doubt her Munshi.

Audiences are likely to have a few more questions.

The film's re-positioning of Victoria as a racially progressive monarch is also bit of a stretch.

Dench's imperious performance keeps the film afloat, but as a piece of storytelling, Victoria and Abdul is disturbingly glib.

Victoria and Abdul opens on Thursday.


Victoria and Abdul

Stars: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigott-Smith.

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: TBA

Verdict: 2.5 stars


Topics:  judi dench movie review movies

News Corp Australia

Train campaign gathers speed with 2019 election bid

Facilities the old XPT commuter train which connecting Murwillumah to Casino to the Sydney-Brisbane line.

Stops at M'bah, Billinudgel, Mullum, Byron Bay, Lismore proposed

This weekend's Northern Rivers markets list

A small wooden crate with vegetables from the farmers markets.

Where can you get some great coffee and awesome local produce from

'No respect': G'bah kids dealing drugs, destroying property

UNDER SIEGE: Goonellabah resident Jeff Thompson wants to see something done about youths roaming the streets and causing damage to people's properties, such as throwing rocks at cars and homes including his (below).

"I know kids around here that are on ice”

Local Partners

Ryan Seacrest the latest in Hollywood sex-assault claims

RYAN Seacrest is the latest man in Hollywood to be accused of misconduct but says he’s always been an ‘advocate for women’.

John Jarratt denies assault claims

Aussie ‘Wolf Creek’ actor John Jarratt has responded to sexual assault accusations. Picture: Supplied.

Wolf Creek actor John Jarratt has responded to assault claims

LOST MILLION: Wheel of Fortune clue stuns

The letters left for the final Wheel of Fortune clue on the US game show. Picture: Supplied

They thought they had a million in the bag, but weren't close enough

Lisa hits back at Jess and Ruby Rose

Could this be the end of The Veronicas with their feud moving from private to public? Picture Craig Greenhill

Veronicas twins family feud gets nastier

Jamie Oliver wants more

Jamie Oliver's latest television series and book, Jamie's Quick and Easy Food, goes back to basics.

But first the Naked Chef is stripping it bare again

premium_icon Wolf Creek star John Jarratt accused of rape

John Jarratt as Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek. Picture: Stan

The star Wolf Creek has been accused of sexual assault

Powerful, entertaining art coming to Norpa in 2018

360 Allstars are coming to NORPA in Lismore.

Theatre, cabaret, circus and more on offer