In 1887 Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) celebrates her golden jubilee. For 50 years she has been Queen of England and the Empress of India. The ceremony is drawing to a close, and even the Queen, who is at last the center of attention, falls asleep.
For the 24 year-old Indian secretary Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), the festival is the most exciting day of his life. As a servant he will be very close to his queen. Do not look into her eyes, he gets warned. But then, as the Queen threatens to fall asleep again, he looks at her and smiles.
The friendship between the Queen and her servant is a scandal at Buckingham Palace. Victoria considers Abdul as a teacher who accompanies her on journeys. He shows her the Indian cuisine, and teaches languages like Urdu and Hindi. He even write intimate letters.
The court state doubts about the spiritual health of the Queen. Victoria learns through her servant to look at the world through other eyes. For the first time, she asks her role and realizes that even though she wears a crown, she is only a servant.
With lavish equipment and a good cast, the interplay of Judi Dench and Ali Fazal is the heart of the film. Judi Dench is great as a small, old, self-willed monarch. Ali Fazal plays Abdul Karim as a career conscious adventurer. He winds the Queen with a lot of charm around his little finger, but actually likes her too.
Stephen Frears devotes himself to a humorous episode from the life of Queen Victoria. It is a story of friendship, tolerance and what it means to serve and rule.
Judi Dench is great as a small, old, self-willed monarch. Ali Fazal plays Abdul Karim as a career conscious adventurer. He winds the Queen with a lot of charm around his little finger, but actually likes her too.
When a film says that it is more or less based on true events, a cheerful tone seems to be set at once. And this is actually kept here, even if Victoria & Abdul is not always fun.
The director Stephen Frears takes a whole lot in the two hours of his new film. There is a precise comedy of the stands and classes, but also plenty of culture clash, fun and a racism drama. Stephen Frears is a great director. As in his previous film "Florence Foster Jenkins", the focus is on a mature woman.