User Reviews (66)

  • bob-the-movie-man17 September 2017
    10/10
    "And the Oscar goes to... Dame Judi Dench"
    As we crawl out of the (largely disappointing) summer movie season, the first of the serious award-contenders hoves into view. Victoria and Abdul tells the untold story of a hushed-up relationship between an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, "Philomina", "Spectre") and her Indian servant, Abdul Kareem (Ali Fazal).

    Kareem is shipped to England from Agra to deliver a ceremonial coin to the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, together with a grumbling 'stand-in tall guy' Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar, "The Big Sick", "Four Lions"). Kareem finds the Queen as sour, depressed and acidic as her post-Albert reputation would have you imagine. But something clicks between the two, and pretty soon the perked-up queen is learning Urdu and all about the Koran, much to the horror of her successor Teddy, the Prince of Wales (a splendid Eddie Izzard, "Oceans 13") and the rest of the royal household, who try desperate measures to derail the relationship.

    This film is a complete delight. I went along without great expectations.... a worthy film I thought I should go and see to write a worthy review about. But I was entranced from beginning to end. It's probably best described as a comedy drama... always a difficult trick for a movie-maker to pull off. But here in the competent hands of director Stephen Frears ("Florence Foster Jenkins") the comedy is both very, VERY funny, with the drama also being extremely moving. And crucially the transition between the two never feels forced.

    I've seen a few critical comments that the film's underlying topic - the subjugation of the Indian state and the queen's role in that, is a "serious topic" and not a suitable subject for a comedy like this. And of course, "the Empire" is a terrible legacy that the British people have around their necks in the same manner as Germans have their Nazi past and the American South have their history of slavery. But the film never really gets into these issues in any depth: Abdul's background, whilst sketchily drawn and feeling rather sanitised for the late 1800's, is one of a middle-class Indian with a decent colonial job: someone shown respect by his British managers. While the "uprising" of Muslims is mentioned - indeed it's a key part of the story - Victoria's lack of knowledge of such things, or indeed of all things to do with the country she is 'Empress' of, is made clear. The focus of the film is quite rightly on the understandable scandal (for the day) of the queen of England (and hence head of the Church of England) having a spiritual teacher (or "Munshi") who is neither white nor Christian. If there is a criticism to be made of the splendid script by Lee Hall ("War Horse") it is that the racial references - and there are a few - feel rather over-sanitised given the tensions that erupt as the story unfolds.

    Above all, this is an acting tour de force for Dame Judi, reprising her role as the elderly queen from "Mrs Brown" which (shockingly!) is now 20 years old. I know its early in the season to be placing bets, before having seen any of the other major contenders, but Dench's "insanity" speech screams "Oscar reel" to me. Her performance is masterly from beginning to end.

    Rather overshadowed by Dench is the relative newcomer to western cinema Ali Fazal (he had a role in the "Furious 7" film). But his performance is almost as impressive, bringing the warmth and compassion to the supporting role that is so sorely needed if the overall balance of the film is to be maintained.

    The supporting cast is equally stellar with Olivia Williams ("An Education", "The Sixth Sense") acidic as Baroness Churchill; Simon Callow ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") as Puccini; Michael Gambon ("Harry Potter") as Lord Salisbury and Tim Pigott-Smith as Henry Ponsonby, head of the royal household. This was Pigott-Smith's final live-action performance before his untimely death at the age of only 70 in April of this year: and it's sad to say that he really doesn't look well in this film. Also of note is Fenella Woolgar as lady's maid Miss Phipps, comical as a the quivering wreck holding the shortest straw in having to face up to her ferocious mistress.

    Another star of the show is the Scottish countryside, ravishingly photographed by Danny Cohen ("Florence Foster Jenkins", "Room") with this film probably doing more for the Scottish Tourist Board than any paid for advertising could ever do!

    As the film comments it's "Based on a True Story... Mostly", and this tease of a caption both infuriates and intrigues in equal measure.  I may feel obliged to delve into the original source material by Shrabani Basu to learn more.  

    Overall this is a true delight of a film, perfectly balanced, brilliantly acted: I would say this is a "must see" for any older viewers over the age of 50 in need of a cinema outing that doesn't disappoint. This is everything that (for me) "Viceroy's House" should have been but wasn't. Highly recommended.

    (For the graphical version of this review, please visit www.bob-the- movie-man.com. Thanks.)
  • ruthszulc18 September 2017
    10/10
    Judi does it again
    What an amazing movie, Judi is as usual, such a wonderful actress portraying Queen Victoria once again. The story line is fantastic and it flows beautifully. This would have to be the best film for me this year. I love how they made this film so funny, and yet so touching. I laughed and I cried all the way through.
  • imdb-628414 September 2017
    8/10
    Surprisingly endearing
    My wife and I attended a preview screening last night with no preconceived ideas about the movie, not having even seen a trailer.

    We were immediately drawn in and pleasantly surprised by the story, even though we thought it may have been a little far fetched. Until we found that it is a biography and mostly fact. That made the story even sweeter.

    Dame Judy Dench's acting was peerless as usual, but by far the biggest revelation was Ali Fazal, who put in a wonderful performance from comedic through emotionally intense.

    There was so much I didn't know about Queen Victoria's twilight years that this movie put into perspective, in a way that was consistently entertaining. We laughed and cried. Highly recommended.
  • brankovranjkovic25 September 2017
    6/10
    Victoria and Abdul: Grey Audience Special
    Warning: Spoilers
    BBC Films. Based on a true story (mostly). This is a film about the controversial friendship between Queen Victoria and a Muslim 'coin carrier' Abdul. Abdul is awarded the role of presenting the coin at a Royal banquet simply because he is tall, a friendship develops and he is promoted very quickly within the household and much to the annoyance of the other staff.

    This is Britain doing what it does best, great performances, great costumes, and great cinematography. Judy Dench is amazing as always.

    I was not expecting much humour, but this film so funny in places, particularly during the first hour. The downside is the politics at the time, which can obviously linked to current political affairs, especially Brexit, the BBC can be so left wing!
  • zif ofoz12 November 2017
    4/10
    Empty costume flick
    For all the praise and glory this flick has received I must disagree!

    Judi Dench is boorish as Victoria because it's just another Dench role she has perfected in previous movies. A strong willed hard nosed yet vulnerable woman. And Ali Fazal as Abdul comes across as more like a puppet than a person. The character development in both Victoria and Abdul is at a total loss.

    I believe the other reviewers that speak so colorfully about this flick are overwhelmed by the magnificent production and photography and completely fail to see the thread bare script and transparent story line.

    Four stars because it was pretty to watch.
  • Kingslaay23 September 2017
    Great film and story
    Warning: Spoilers
    Victoria and Abdul was a truly enjoyable film. It is a story about the friendship between a monarch in her final days who outlived many dear ones and a genuine and religious soul who relished in her company. A simpleton who wished to serve and is full of life won the favor of the celebrated monarch who saw his true intentions and valued his heartfelt wishes. The bond has to be one of the most unusual as well as greatest friendships in history. The film is a treat to watch and showcases some great performances from the cast, especially the two leads. At the same time it is a window into an interesting and rich part of history. It shed light on events that were unknown till 2010 and quite fascinating to learn and watch.

    The soft and innocent friendship was enjoyable to watch from the dance scene to the walk shared in Florence. The film also had nice doses of humor hear and there to liven the film up. It was the meeting of two different worlds, on one side an aged ruler and on the other a low level simpleton who connected on a humane level. For a brief moment the queen and the audience forgot about Imperialism and colonisation. The end resembled a tragedy with the Queen dying and Abdul Karim being thrown out of England. The end with Abdul paying respects to his queen close to the Taj Mahal that he passionately told her about was a nice touch to end such a good film.

    8/10
  • ritera18 October 2017
    4/10
    Very good acting, little else.
    Warning: Spoilers
    I'm a bit lost on why Dench did this film. It certainly was a wealth to work with in context of the character.

    But the script was very much historically inaccurate. The direction was poor and the editing choppy.

    Billed as the relationship between the Queen and Abdul, it actually asked you to take their word for it and then focused on the redundant conflict between their relationship and the rest of the household. There were only a few cursory scenes between the two and their interactions that felt laborious with no chemistry. If they supposedly had such absorbing conversations, they never depicted them.

    What little I subsequently read, it was very clear that extensive historical inaccuracies were boiled down to an essentially fictional account compressed into a relatively short span vs. the long period that it did take place. Abdul, as depicted, was supposedly selfless and devoted. History actually said he was very selfish and opportunistic, which would be line with reality being that the British Empire was no friend of the Indian people. Thus, a selfless Indian devotee of the Queen would be bizarre.

    One oddity that stood out to me was Mohammid's death. In the film, Mohammid wanted to go back to India but ended up in England 'til his death due to the weather. No explanation why he would not have been permitted to return and why Abdul would not have facilitated that. It didn't happen like that in real life, though.

    The direction was poor as there was no ebb and flow to the dialogue and interchanges. Most parties were speaking with the same rushed rhythm and tone. I had the feeling that the production was very much rushed and these good actors could do the best they could. I don't want to detail such, but the editing was choppy at best.

    One of the warning flags was early on when they teased showing the Queen's face, over and over. Then when they did it farted out as it was at a distance and hard to see her face. I expected some sort of distinct appearance and a look of dejection from Dench.

    Miss it. Not worth it. If you are a junkie for this period, you might sort-of like it.
  • malcolmgsw18 September 2017
    9/10
    judi dench is marvelous
    This has to be one of the best films that I have seen this year.Judi Dench is peerless as Queen Victoria.She is the queen personified.We can see that whatever understanding that she has of her Indian subjects will pass with her and that the ingrained attitudes will eventually lead to Independence and loss of Empire.A really excellent film.
  • dromasca25 September 2017
    5/10
    an impossible love story
    The history of England was blessed with several famous queens - starting with head-losers Anne Boleyn and Mary Stuart, continuing the two Elisabeth's and of course Queen Victoria, the record holder of longevity until recently, the queen who gave her name to a whole era of maximal glory and expansion of the British Empire. The big dames of English cinema were accordingly blessed with the respective fabulous roles that they love to bring to the big screens and are regarded as peaks of their careers. For Dame Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul directed by Stephen Frears provides (for the second time actually) the opportunity to create a memorable portrait of Victoria. Her success in completing this task is the best part and the best that can be said and written about this production. Unfortunately, this is not the only thing that can be said and written about this film.

    It's very difficult to disconnect the historical episode of the relationship between the old widow who was also the queen of the largest empire on earth at her time (and maybe at all times) and the Muslim servant from India who raised to become her secretary, counselor, spiritual adviser, friend, surrogate son and maybe more than all these, and the political situation today, 120 years later, when the divided Britain faced with the realities of globalization and immigration tries to put again sea and borders between her and Europe. The authors of the film invested quite a lot in describing the atmosphere of the imperial households and its corridors of power and gossip with the adequate costumes and decoration but they are talking all the time to the contemporary spectator while telling a story based on real history or facts as they happened ... or almost, as they cautionary and wisely warn us in the opening.

    We are thus left with an impossible friendship and even love story, impossible because of a mountain of reasons: class differences, race prejudices, age gap, cultural and historical precipices. The only thing that can save such a film from falling in complete melodrama or faked rhetoric is the human dimension. In Victoria and Abdul this dimension is only partially delivered by the splendid acting performance of Judi Dench. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast cannot come even close to her class. Ali Fazal is fit physically but lacks the nuances that can explain some of the contradictions of his personality. We never know or really understand what is his real class background, whether the deepness of his knowledge in the Quran and oriental culture is genuine, or if he intentionally misled his beloved queen in the details of the history and realities of the inter-faith conflicts on the Indian continent. The rest of the cast is condemned to represent a gallery of half-ridiculous, half-perverse characters representing the British aristocracy class full of prejudice and bad faith. If only the caricature would have been pushed a little further we could have had more comical fun, but Stephen Frears could not really abandon the ambition of passing some important message about today's politics. In my opinion he failed, and the principal great merit of this film is telling a half-baked potential love story while allowing Judi Dench to add another great role to her illustrious filmography.
  • David Ferguson28 September 2017
    6/10
    dame judi does it again
    Greetings again from the darkness. Director Stephen Frears has enjoyed a long career by focusing on the interesting stories of people, rather than the salient specifics of history or politics. He received Oscar nominations for THE QUEEN and THE GRIFTERS, and helmed other crowd-pleasers such as MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS, PHILOMENA, HIGH FIDELITY, and FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS. While purely entertaining movies are always welcome, it's important to note the filmmaker's approach when the story is entwined with historical importance.

    "Based on real events … mostly" is Mr. Frears' cutesy way of kicking off the film and asking us to enjoy the unusual story of connection between a Queen and a servant, and cut him some slack on the historical depth. For most of us, the real enjoyment will be derived from watching yet another standout performance from Oscar winner (and 7 time nominee) Dame Judi Dench as the longest-reigning monarch, Queen Victoria in her elderly years. It's a role she played twenty years ago in MRS. BROWN, and her relationship with John Brown (presented in that film) has some parallels to what we see here with Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Dame Judi is the rare actress who can capture both the loneliness and tiresome burden of six decades of rule and the re-invigorated woman we see learning a new language and new religion. She plays weary and spunky with equal believability.

    Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, and in 1861 her beloved husband Prince Albert died. This film picks up in 1887 with the pomp and circumstance of the Golden Jubilee – a celebration of her 50 years of rule. The early scenes tease us with obstructed views, and the comedic element becomes quite obvious as we see her so carelessly slurping her soup at the formal lunch. Part of the celebration includes the presentation of an honorary coin by two Indians peasants Abdul (Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), the first chosen because of his height, and the second as a last minute fill-in.

    Lee Hall (Oscar nominated for BILLY ELLIOT) wrote the screenplay based on the book by Shrabani Basu. The journals of Abdul Karim were only discovered in 2010, a hundred years after his death. Some of the less favorable moments of this era are mentioned, but most of the Queen's lack of knowledge or awareness is attributed to the "boring" reports from her advisers. This leads to some awkward moments later in the film regarding the Muslim mutiny and the subsequent Fatwa.

    Rather than dwell on history, the film prefers to focus on the unconventional friendship and the re-awakening of the Queen. Abdul becomes her "Munshi" – a spiritual adviser and her teacher of Urda and the Koran. As you would expect, this is all quite scandalous and frustrating for those such as Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon), Lady Churchill (Olivia Williams), Victoria's son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), and the royal staff: Sir Henry (the recently deceased Tim Pigott-Smith), her physician Dr Reid (Paul Higgins), and her quivering maid Miss Phipps (Fenella Woolgar). There is even a comical sequence with the great singer Puccini (Simon Callow) as the Queen herself belts out the Gilbert and Sullivan song "I'm Called Little Buttercup".

    Balmoral, the Isle of Wight, and Windsor Castle are all part of the breath-taking scenery, while the absurdity of the royal status is viewed through the eyes of the Indian servants. Most of the focus is on Victoria's transformation from joyless, isolated monarch to the anything-but-insane (an Oscar worthy scene) and eager to engage elderly woman (one who has an entire era named after her) falling back in love with life as she fights off "the banquet of eternity". Come for the laughs and the performance of Dame Judi … just not for a history lesson.
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