Coming to theatres this Friday from director Stephen Frears and Focus Features is the story of an unlikely friendship between VICTORIA & ABDUL.
Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) is a clerk in a prison in India and his life is about to change. Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) is to be given a tribute coin and Abdul is the tall man for the job. Along with a shorter Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), they sale toward England and Abdul is very excited.
There is no time for looking around much as Abdul and Mohammed are given a crash course on how to present to the Queen. Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith) lets the two men know that everything is to be precise and quickly.
During the dinner, Abdul and Mohammed make their way toward Queen Victoria and after a quick nap the presentation is made. Walking backwards, Abdul does the unthinkable and makes eye contact and gives a smile to the Queen and what turns into one moment becomes an unlikely friendship.
Much to the horror of Sir Ponsonby and Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon) as well as her ladies Lady Churchill (Olivia Williams) and Miss Phipps (Fenella Woolgar), the Queen begins to prefer the company of Abdul. They inform the Queen’s son Bertie (Eddie Izzard) and a plan is formed.
Queen Victoria asks Abdul about his land, language and his story as they share walks and private times. It is clear that Abdul cares very much for the Queen and she for him, especially discovering he is married and demanding he get his family and return. That doesn’t stop the Queen’s staff, along with Dr. Reid (Paul Higgins), from looking into Abdul’s past. Believing they can stop him with what they know, it only manages to infuriate the Queen in Abdul’s favor.
Including a knighthood which sends the entire palace into a tizzy and a decision that will not only put their loyalty in question but show how Queen Victoria wasn’t napping any longer.
This is a friendship that is filled with understanding, forgiveness and even unspoken love.
Dench once again proves why she is a queen in her own right. She is smart, strong, delicate, wistful and a woman who sees so little to move forward for. Once the Queen’s inner light is ignited, Dench shines every moment of the film. I quite honestly could not take my eyes off her performance and the ending brought me to tears.
Karim as Fazal is a man who doesn’t see the world in such an aggressive way as those around him. A simple jail clerk who happens to know how to write is sent across the world to do one simple thing and it turns into a friendship. Fazal delivers his lines with the innocence I see in Abdul in that how one sees the world is clearly different than the Queen. There are moments where he is clearly confused, moments of profound joy and deep sadness and Fazal gets every drop of emotion out of the audience who is just as enraptured as the Queen.
Izzard as Bertie is just the worst that a son could possible be. Instead of being happy for the emotional reviving of his mother, he sees Abdul as an interloper and acts like a spoiled child instead of a future ruler. Izzard just pours it on and gets the reaction he wants!
Akhtar as Mohammed just wants to go home, and when he sees that the Prince and others want to use that against his friend Abdul – his response is epic! Pigott-Smith as Ponsonby is confused by the relationship between the Queen and Abdul but at the same time has a faithfulness to the way things ought to be done. Higgins as Dr. Reid is just another lackey who isn’t happy about Abdul’s presence and finds himself faced with the wrath of the Queen. Gambon as Salisbury wants one thing only – for Abdul to be gone and the crown to go back to normal.
Williams as Lady Churchill isn’t happy to have the Queen’s ear and convinces Miss Phipps to do the extortion deed. Woolgar as Phipps has a moment in front of the Queen that is nerve wracking to watch but awesome to experience.
Other cast include Julian Wadham as Alick Yorke, Robin Soans as Arthur Bigge, Ruth McCabe as Mrs. Tuck, Sukh Ojla as Mrs. Karim, Kemaal Deen-Ellis as Ahmed and Simon Callow as Puccini.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give VICTORIA & ABDUL five tubs of popcorn out of five. There is nothing about this film that goes wrong with me. The story between Queen Victoria and Abdul is delightful, funny, testing, sad, misunderstood and heartbreaking.
Mixed in with that is the ugliness of those around the Queen with their jabbing, back biting, underhanded, and horrible treatment of Abdul and Mohammed. Instead of embracing the cultural differences of these two men, they found ways to cut them to the quick – and right to their face in some cases.
The cinematography is amazing and it is a period piece which is going to grab me from the word go. I absolutely adore the costuming which is always an important part of a period piece because it adds such a richness to the storytelling.
I’m warning anyone who sees the film to keep a Kleenex handy because for the ending you are going to need it. The chemistry between Dench and Fazal is everything I wanted for this story to be told – thank you both for making me laugh, smile and shed a tear.
In the end – this is a friendship based on a true story…well, mostly.