HollywoodChicago.com RSS   Facebook   HollywoodChicago.com on Twitter   Free Giveaway E-mail   

History by Rote in Formulaic ‘Victoria and Abdul’

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
Average: 5 (1 vote)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – There have been 155 TV/Movie depictions of Queen Victoria, who ruled England from 1837 to 1901. The “Victorian Era” continues to fascinate filmmakers, and who is perfect to portray Queen V. towards the end of her life? Get me Dame Judi Dench on the Skype!

This is a story of a little known chapter of her later life… her unlikely relationship with a footman from India, Abdul Karim. In the film, it is hinted that the history of this friendship was destroyed for image purposes, but enough of the events were recorded to adapt into a film (from a book by Shrabani Basu). Veteran director Stephen Frears (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) applies his usual workmanlike approach to narrative, but nothing comes to life in the situation. No offense to the great Judi D., but the formula presented in the film almost seemed like a satire, with the elder actress of course portraying the title character of an ancient queen. The supporting cast does lend a better hand, especially comedian Eddie Izzard as heir to the throne, Albert “Bertie” Edward. Except for the apparent destruction of this chapter in Victoria’s life, the story doesn’t grab.

Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) has hit a rut. Her kingdom is close to a billion people, but at the end of the 1890s her long reign – combined with old age – has become lonely and boring. It’s time for a surprising happenstance, and it comes in the form of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a subject of the colony of India. His participation in a ceremony piques Victoria’s interest.

Title Characters Victoria (Judi Dench) and Abdul (Ali Fazal)
Photo credit: Universal Pictures International

The Queen is so fascinated that she invites Abdul to be a footman in her entourage. Their friendship as a result of this unlikely pairing infuriates Victoria’s son Prince Bertie (Eddie Izzard), the heir to her throne. The situation gets so tense that the Prince draws up papers to declare his mother insane, which inflames the situation all the way to Victoria’s death in 1901.

There is nobody except Judi Dench who can play Victoria at this point in her life, and that casting does give the film the air of a wink at the camera. She does a decent job with the character, but the story first is all about her being comically bored, then being bewitched by her new friendship, and finally being angry when it falls apart. Dame Dench seems to be following rather that leading in the performance, and while this lion of acting still roars, the sound is a bit muted.

Abdul is portrayed by Ali Fazal, a Bollywood actor who had a bit part in “Furious 7” in 2015. He role as Victoria’s supplicant is a tad angelic, but the film wants to make him the misunderstood hero of the realm, and he delivers with a constant smile and accent that is a reminder of Apu from “The Simpsons.” It’s hard to detect a chemistry between him and Judi D., but it doesn’t affect a story that goes from A-to-Z by rote rather than subtlety.

He is Not Amused: Eddie Izzard as the Prince of Wales in ‘Victoria and Abdul’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures International

There are some nice turns from the supporting cast, with the always welcome Michael Gambon as Lord Salisbury, Victoria’s prime minister. His gruff perplexity of the elder Queen is deftly delivered. The surprising performance came from comedian Eddie Izzard as Albert “Bertie” Edward, who before Charles had the longest reign as Prince of Wales. Izzard’s portrayal of Bertie’s jealousy at his mother’s relationship with Abdul is properly Freudian, and his anger at trying to end the coupling expressed that it was the Prince, rather than his mother, who was insane.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and Victoria had that spirit in the dour pictures of her from the early photography of the 19th Century. To quote her, and as I would guess she would say about this review, “We are not amused.”

“Victoria and Abdul” expanded to Chicago on September 29th. Featuring Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigott-Smith and Eddie Izzard. Screenplay adapted by Lee Hall, from the book by Shrabani Basu. Directed by Stephen Frears. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2017 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • Speech & Debate (stage play)

    CHICAGO – “Speech & Debate,” the latest production from the mighty Brown Paper Box Company, continues their tradition of thinking outside that “box” in presenting storefront theater that makes a statement and a difference. “Speech” goes inside America by showcasing the outsiders… those who create art because they can’t get it right in real life. This non-equity Chicago stage play premiere is finely tuned and wonderfully acted, and runs through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.

  • We're Gonna Be Okay

    CHICAGO – The 1960s were a time of historical social transition. The movements – civil rights, feminist, gay rights – all had roots in that tumultuous decade. The Chicago premiere of Basil Kreimendahl’s “We’re Gonna Be Okay” echoes all of those movements in its characters, and collides them against the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The show has a Thursday-Sunday run at the American Theater Company through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.


HollywoodChicago.com on Twitter


HollywoodChicago.com Top Ten Discussions