I would guess that most American film fans only began to notice Judi Dench when she appeared as “M,” James Bonds’ boss, in GOLDENEYE. Thankfully, because of that wonder television channel known as PBS, I had known about her for years, thanks in part to her starring role in the British television series “A Fine Romance.” She is one of the finest actors of her generation, with seven Academy Award nominations (and one Oscar) to attest to her talent. Her work in VICTORIA AND ABDUL is just as good as almost anything she’s been nominated for.
It is the year 1887 and in India a man named Abdul (Fazel) has been summoned from his job at the local prison (he records the names and deeds of all of the prisoners). He is informed that he will be going to England to present an honorary commemorative coin to Queen Victoria. His qualifications for being chosen – he’s the tallest worker in the prison. He is joined on the trip by Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar). He is much shorter that Abdul but has been chosen to replace another man who met with an unfortunate elephant incident. When they arrive in England they are dressed smartly and brought before the queen (Dench). For some reason, the queen is intrigued by this tall, smiling man, and soon will embark on a friendship that will last for many years.
I must say that I have NEVER been disappointed by a Stephen Frears film. He is a master at putting great actors and great words together in such a way that you can almost feel them. VICTORIA AND ABDUL is no exception. We feel the utter despair of Queen Victoria as she realizes her later years will be spent alone. She has no relationship with her children and really spends her days waiting for the next banquet to begin. Her interest in Abdul is seen as a threat to the Royal staff and attendants, where soon instead of her head of the household the queen goes over the day’s official correspondence with Abdul. Abdul truly relishes the queen. He is pleased to be serving her and finds joy in teaching her the ways of his country and his people. Of course, the more she learns the angrier her underlings become. However, some great friendships can never be broken.
The cast is amazing. Dench has played Victoria before, in 1997’s MRS BROWN, earning her first Academy Award nomination. Should she be nominated for this film, she would become the seventh actor, and the last since Sylvester Stallone, to be nominated twice for playing the same role. Fazel is also engaging. He reminded me very much of Victor Banerjee, who appeared in A PASSAGE TO INDIA. Akhtar is quite funny as Mohammed, the one person who DOESN’T want to stay in England – the weather is wreaking havoc on his sinuses. Izzard also has a nice turn as Victoria’s son, Bertie, the Prince of Wales and the future king. Production values are also first rate, with Frears and his cameras capturing the beautiful English and Indian landscapes.
Video: The film is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio and is beautifully transferred. The images of the English fields and Scottish moors are postcard worthy and the colorful costumes worn by Abdul are strikingly bright and beautiful.
Audio: The soundtrack is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and sounds wonderful. The dialogue is crisp and clear – even with the various accents.
Judi & Ali (4:55): A nice feature about how the off-screen friendship of the two actors helped define the one on-screen.
The Look of “Victoria and Abdul” (6:47): Standard featurette about the locations used and the ideas behind them.