Victoria & Abdul shows Judi Dench to be cinema royalty

Queen Victoria is no stranger to the big screen and neither is Dame Judi Dench who’s back as the iconic monarch in her latest film Victoria & Abdul. It’s the second time Dench has played Victoria – 20 years ago she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Mrs Brown.

In her latest film, Dench plays Queen Victoria during her final years where’s she’s overweight, bored and miserable attending many banquets. She’s got terrible table manners and even snores in between courses, however, her life is about to change when the striking Indian servant, Abdul Karim, breaks Royal protocol and catches the Queen’s eye when presenting her with a gift. He later becomes her ‘Munshi’ or spiritual teacher of the Quran, as well as instructing her on how to write and speak Urdu.

We’re informed at the start of the film that the story is ‘based on true events… mostly’, so we can assume that this has allowed for the playful nature of the story and script. This is a light-hearted jaunt of laughs at British pomp and ceremony, as well as allowing us to celebrate an older woman who’s just going to do what she darn well pleases. This cinematic incarnation of the most famous of royals is one that celebrates, as stated in one of the film’s most memorable monologues, a ‘cantankerous’ and stubborn ruler who is ‘disagreeably addicted to power’. Ultimately, it is a sweet tale of an unexpected bond and friendship born out of loneliness, kindness and a lust for knowledge and life that Victoria herself once thought was gone.

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal have great chemistry (I do wonder if there’s anyone Dench can’t have good chemistry with?) and he’s charming and extremely likable in the role. Eddie Izzard plays Victoria’s disgruntled son, Albert, and is every bit the villain along with his stuck-up cronies; Tim Pigott-Smith as Sir Henry Ponsonby and Michael Gambon as Lord Salisbury, who all think it’s time the Queen just did as she was told. Further comic relief is delivered by Adeel Akhtar, as Abdul’s frustrated companion Mohammed and offers up some great banter.

As I’m sure you’d expect Dench carries the whole film, not taking anything away from the other actors but Queen Dench really is in a league of her own. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, we often think of the Victorian era as dull, dark and miserable but this heartwarming period piece is a great pick me up that’s an enjoyable watch for both its look and performances. It’s no Oscar winner, and those who want more ‘meat’ to their movies should look elsewhere for a historical drama, but for me, it was the perfect Sunday afternoon watch.

Victoria & Abdul finds friendship in the most unlikely of palaces and is out in NZ cinemas now.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.

3.5 stars small