Victoria & Abdul (PG)
Starring Judi Dench, Ali Fazal
Directed by Stephen Frears
The last time Judi Dench played Queen Victoria on the big screen was in 1997’s Mrs Brown, which is about the monarch’s scandalous association with her servant John Brown.
Here, the wonderful Dench is back as Victoria in a quasi-sequel to Mrs Brown, this time about yet another — and lesser known — friendship with Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a lowly Indian Muslim clerk who charmed his way to be the Queen’s ‘Munshi’ (or teacher) and confidant.
Sadly, Victoria’s curiosity and appreciation of foreign cultures aren’t shared by her inner circle (mainly, Eddie Izzard’s Bertie, the future King Edward VII). The latter’s racist snubs and Islamophobia will inevitably draw comparisons to the current political climate.
The handsome biopic is, for the most part, light-hearted and steers clear of the more dubious side of Abdul’s activities (guess you’ll have to read Shrabani Basu’s 2010 biography, from which the movie is adapted, to fill in the blanks — like how did Abdul contract a STD?) Still, it doesn’t change the movie’s call for openness and tolerance, something the world can use more of right now. (***)