Film review: Victoria and Abdul (4 out of 5)

Queen Victoria has always been a fascinating character for the small and large screen.

Judie Dench and Ali Fazal in Victoria and Abdul
Judie Dench and Ali Fazal in Victoria and Abdul

Coming to the throne when she was 18, she ruled over an enormous empire, saw many prime ministers come and go, had a handful attempts on her life and produced several children who formed various important dynasties.

Judi Dench, who played the same role in the 1997 film Mrs Brown, is in top form in this often amusing but also sad film, based on real events.

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It’s several years after the death of her beloved Prince Albert and her old friend and servant John Brown has also died.

Victoria is overweight, weary, not in the best of health, and thoroughly bored with all the engagements she has to sit through.

Then, at one dull dinner, the very handsome Abdul Kazir (Ali Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) present her with an Indian coin as she’s now Empress of India.

The queen realises that getting to know Abdul better will brighten up her life, with his intriguing tales of Indian culture and customs.

However, the more close the two get the more worried the Royal household becomes, especially Bertie, Prince of Wales (really well played by Eddie Izzard).

Director Stephen Frears has an excellent feel for films that rely on characters rather than action, as demonstrated with The Queen, Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins.

And, of course, Judi Dench is in her element given a meaty role like this.

There’s plenty of great support from the likes of Tim Pigott-Smith (in his final film role), Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon, and a delightful cameo from Simon Callow as opera singer Puccini.

The superb chemistry between Dench and Fazal makes this a very touching movie and while the truth of what actually happened may have been stretched somewhat, it’s still a great story.

Film details: Victorial and Abdul (PG) 112mins

Directors: Stephen Frears

Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon

Screening courtesy of Horsham Capitol