Victoria and Abdul Movie Review: Ali Fazal fails to match up to Judi Dench's brilliance

Oct 12, 2017, 10:11 IST | Johnson Thomas

Ali Fazal, though impressive in looks, fails to muster enough presence or character to match up to Judi Dench's brilliance in 'Victoria and Abdul'

'Victoria And Abdul'
U/A; Drama
Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams, Adeel Akhtar, Tim Pigott-Smith, Robin Soans, Simon Callow, Ruth McCabe, Julian Wadham, Fenella Woolgar, Deano Bugatti

Two decades after playing the redoubtable monarch in 'Mrs Brown,' 82-year-old living legend Dame Judi Dench revisits the role adding magnanimity and soul searching to those wonderful qualities she exhibited earlier on in her acting career.

'Victoria & Abdul'

This regal period entreaty has the ageing Queen celebrating her golden jubilee, as the reigning monarch of the British Empire, held in 1887, and to commemorate it two Indians are selected to go to England and present her with the Mohur-ceremonial coin, in the Royal Household. The two, who have been uprooted from their colonized country, have been warned to not look directly at the queen. The older of the two, Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) is humbly obliging but Abdul (Ali Fazal), a tall, youthful, attractive young man can't help but gaze smilingly at the dour-faced lonely, podgy old woman attired in black. Suddenly, he bends down and kisses her foot. And thus, sows the seeds of an affectionate bond - a connection across class barriers, eventually going on to become her closest companion during the waning years of her reign.

This is, of course, the amazing Judi Dench's film all the way. While the writing may seem hollow and stuffed up with inconsequential routine, the grand Dame of acting just lords it over her fellow counterparts – without diminishing their presence in any way. The role was certainly written with her in mind and her presence commands such sovereignty that it becomes synonymous with Royalty.

The script by Lee Hall ("Billy Elliot") is an adaptation of a book by Shrabani Basu – supposedly based on real events that came to light in 2012. The narrative allows for both characters to reveal themselves as the movie progresses. While Abdul's hidden truths are taken for calumny, Victoria's are significant of loneliness and heavy with heartache. The once clerk in a prison who gets elevated to "Munshi"(teacher) to the Queen - teaching her Urdu and the Koran, is resented by the royals because of his closeness to the Queen.

Ali Fazal, though impressive in looks, fails to muster enough presence or character to match up to Judi Dench's brilliance. His role and performance appear servile to the cause of allowing Dame Dench to look imposing. Abdul, being Muslim, is not anti-colonial and doesn't appear to bear any ill-will towards royalty. Remember this was at a time when Queen Victoria avoided visiting India because of a Fatwa issued against her. There's also nothing complex about this entertaining romp into past relationship history that prefers to be mild-mannered and humorous rather than dramatic and edgy. So what elevates the experience here is the delightfully mannered moments designed to keep everyone twittering.. and Judi Dench's impressively regal performance.

Watch 'Victoria and Abdul' Trailer

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