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|Victoria & Abdul|
dir Stephen Frears
scr Lee Hall
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward
with Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Tim Pigott-Smith, Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Robin Soans, Julian Wadham, Sukh Ojla, Simon Callow
release UK 15.Sep.17, US 22.Sep.17
17/UK Universal 1h52
The Queen's friend: Dench and Fazal
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
This may be a crowd-pleasing film, but it never seems like director Stephen Frears can make up his mind whether he's making a frightfully British comedy or a historical drama about the final 15 years of Queen Victoria's reign. So it ends up as an awkward mix of the two that feels neither funny nor historical. Thankfully it's anchored by another hugely engaging performance by Judi Dench, who keeps the audience smiling even when the plausibility wobbles.
In 1887, Abdul (Fazal) and Mohammed (Akhtar) are sent from India to London to present the Queen (Dench) with a token of India's admiration. They're called "the Hindus" even though they're Muslim, and told to hide with the servants. But Abdul catches Victoria's eye, and she brings them into her household, making Abdul her personal tutor in Urdu and Islam. Her staff (managed by Pigott-Smith) is furious, as is the prime minister (Gambon) and heir to the throne (Izzard). But crossing Her Majesty isn't a wise move, so they hatch a few nefarious plots.
The story is based on recently uncovered documents about the friendship between this unlikely duo, but most of the details have had to be filled in. So the film has a strong whiff of fiction to it, such as how Abdul doesn't have a single friend in the palace aside from the monarch. But Frears directs the film in that jaunty British style that just urges the audience to go along with it. And it's never a chore to watch Dench.
The actress dives into the role with her usual gusto, never once showing any vanity even as she plays a frightfully vain woman. Her casting makes this an intriguing sequel to her 1997 hit Mrs Brown, the events of which are referred to in this script. The cast of ace British actors playing the household staff are all excellent, even if they do tip a bit toward slapstick. And Fazal is likeable enough, even if he remains resolutely one-note.
The main problem is that the film feels like it has been made to a template of British period hits, with overwrought production design, a sappy score (this one's by Thomas Newman) and a jarring mix of comedy and melodrama that obscures anything interesting that might be going on in the story. Still, these formulae work because they're entertaining, and this film passes the time pleasantly enough.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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