This Judy Dench special is heading straight for the Oscars, and when it does reach those hallowed precincts, it will be her eighth nomination to this top-notch recognition. Playing Queen Victoria for the second time in her long and eventful career, years after she did so with equal flair in Mrs Brown, Victoria and Abdul is a languid and platonic romance between the most unmatched characters in history – and 80 plus-year-old queen bored to death with royal life and a surprisingly polished Muslim man from Agra.
Immersed completely in the British Raj’s imperial flavour of 1887, 30 years after the Sepoy Mutiny troubled the stiff upper lip, the film is un-daunting with the servility of Abdul to the queen even though Dame Dench does her best to give status and reputation to her subject who teaches her Urdu and is the teller of stories from India, a dominion she has never visited but wants to.
As the entire royal household revolts, plots, mocks and gets ridden with intrigues against the flowering relationship between the queen and her coloured servant, Dench lends the weight of conviction and poise to the persona of Victoria who can be gentle as a breezy sway but also arrogant and firm as a thoroughbred power centre. Director Stephen Spears does well to serenade the histrionic brilliance of Dame Dench as he straddles an odd-couple story with sensitivity and a keen sense of propriety. The ambience, the times and the locales are put to best use in decorating the film when it gets away from the moments, which is not quite frequent in this endearing drama despite the fact that Abdul is a statue of dedication to the English throne and even kisses the queen’s feet in full public view with the servility of a native. It will raise your hackles as it surprised the Queen herself in the movie.
Even if it is Judy Dench all the way, Ali Fazal is no walkover with his winning smile, sheer munshi-ness and big soulful eyes full of dreams to explore the world, that too within the royal household. The fact that this is a story with historical significance and a recap of a lost but true happening, makes it even more interesting.
Definitely worth a watch and the money spent.