THREE STARS Queen Victoria takes a shine to a muslim servant, and elevates him to the status of teacher.
Starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal
PERIOD DRAMA #VICTORIAANDABDUL
“I am cantankerous, greedy, but I am anything but insane!” a particularly incensed Queen Victoria reminded her household staff, and her son in particular. The occasion was another attempt by the palace to control its monarch who had taken a shine to a servant. Bad enough that she was encouraging a commoner, worse still that he was a foreigner, but worst of all, he was Indian. This is the backbone of Stephen Frears’ VICTORIA AND ABDUL, a mumsy piece of cinema that combines the best of period-porn with an on-form Judi Dench. Which is to say it’s rather like watching Maggie Smith in Downton Abby: all upperclass fuss in a sparkly setting that hints at something much greater without ever quite getting there. Whilst there are some moments in which Frears digs deeper to reflect on the twin evils of colonialism and institutionalised racism, mostly this is an excuse to look at lavish costumes in even more lavish settings while lavish starts do their British best: Michael Gambon as a grumpy PM, Eddie Izzard as a precious prince, Simon Callow as a frothy opera star, and so forth. Whilst agreeably entertaining (Dench is quite marvellous), it’s disagreeably undemanding and doesn’t really aim to be anything more. Given the film’s pedigree (Frears directed both PHILOMENA and THE QUEEN), there’s no escaping the disappointment and the creeping realisation that just a little more edge would have gone an awful long way.