Film Review: Victoria & Abdul

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“NO ONE really knows what it’s like to be queen.”

It’s 1887, and the British Empire is celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Among the kings and princes in attendance is Abdul Karim, a young clerk who has travelled to the event from his famine-ravaged India to present the aging monarch with a ceremonial coin.

Despite being told “Whatever you do, you must not look at Her Majesty”, Abdul looks at Victoria, gives her a smile, and so begin one of the most unlikely friendships in history.  As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to destroy. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity.

Based on Shrabani Basu’s book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, this period piece from Working Title is about Queen Victoria’s latter life, and there is no doubt that many will see an immediate similarity to the story of Mrs Brown.

There is a fine pedigree both on and off the screen for a film that is already being tipped to feature strongly at the 2018 Oscar ceremony. It is written by Lee Hall who did the screenplay for Billy Eliot‘s and directed by Stephen Frears, who was responsible for the Oscar winning 2006 film The Queen.

On screen, it’s the British institution that is Dame Judi Dench, who played Victoria in the said John Madden’s film Mrs Brown, returning to the same role some 20 years later.  Her principal co-star, as Abdul, is Bollywood actor Ali Fazal.  Other well-known names that make up the ensemble include Eddie Izzard (an interesting casting as Bertie, Prince of Wales), Sir Michael Gambon, Tim-Piggott-Smith – in his final big screen role before his untimely death – and Simon Callow.

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