If you've seen the trailer for Victoria and Abdul, then what you see is what you get; a charming and handsome British story about an unusual friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and one of her Indian subjects.

From the deft hands of filmmaker Stephen Frears (The Queen) and based on the book by Shrabani Basu, this story is based on true events - mostly. In 1887, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young clerk from Agra, is chosen to travel from India to participate in the Queen's Golden Jubilee. His job is to present the Queen with a ceremonial coin; which he does with enough of a cheeky smile to get the Queen's attention.

Abdul becomes a member of the royal household. Initially as a footman and then, after entertaining the Queen with poetic talk of his homeland, as a "Munshi" - a teacher and spiritual advisor.

As you can imagine, a Muslim teaching the head of the Anglican church about the Koran doesn't go down well in the traditional royal household. What unfolds is a rather lengthy falling out between the Queen, her pompous aristocratic household and heir Prince Bertie (Eddie Izzard), and the Munshi.


All this unfolds in a collection of beautiful stately homes, country estates and palaces - there's even a trip to Italy to admire the view.

There are similarities with 1997's Mrs Brown, a drama about the relationship between Queen Victoria and her manservant John Brown, also starring Dench as Queen Victoria. This should be considered an unofficial sequel or companion piece - Dench was certainly born to play Queen Victoria.

The only time she is upstaged is when screenwriter Lee Hall gently mocks the empire for its inherent snobbery, racism and strict protocols. While initially delivered with some humour this gets increasingly swamped by a sense of repetition; the Queen's staff revolt, the Queen bites back, and meanwhile the Munshi never really gets a chance to tell us how he feels and his motives remain unclear.

This is more a film about Victoria than Abdul, but their relationship has a timely message about acceptance and understanding between different cultures. Very pleasant indeed.

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Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon



Stephen Frears

Running Time:

111 mins




A lovely way to pass a Sunday afternoon.