Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears, UK/US, 1917)


This wasn’t as cringey as I expected it to be. I hadn’t realised Stephen Frears is the director. And he does a fine job indeed.

Judi Dench is absolutely extraordinary in the role that first made her a star twenty years ago (Mrs. Brown, John Madden, 1997): she not only brings all her stage-craft and know-how but gives her body up to the camera so that it too can contribute to what’s being dramatised: those hanging folds over the lonely eyes, the wrinkled skin of someone who’s lived too well and lived too long. Frears put the camera on Dench and she no longer fears it or ‘performs’ for it: the camera is placed and then she places herself in it to offer her eyes and skin, a tone of voice, pitched just so; a glance, line-readings that know cadences and haven’t forgotten the power of timing. She’s in a league of her own. But Ali Fazal is very good as the munshi and an excellent counterpoint both dramatically and visually — he’s tall, dark and handsome.  And it’s great to see Osborne, and the jewels and the outfit.

It’s not much of a story really, and what is shown is a bit of a whitewash: the establishment was really racist, but the queen who’s on top of everything isn’t etc etc. Eddie Izzard is very good but my favourite was Olivia Williams as Lady Churchill, eavesdropping at every opportunity, glaring her indignation at all passersby, having an eye cocked to every opportunity. Only great actors do so much with so little.


José Arroyo

4 thoughts on “Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears, UK/US, 1917)

  1. I too thought it was ridiculous that the Queen wouldn’t know what/who was being destroyed in her name. I am under-confident in my history knowledge but I thought that was a massive cop out, as it would have been interesting to see her grapple with guilt and her own conflicting behaviours rather then just write her off as having no agency in the doings of her own empire. But I did like the ‘short fellow’ – he said what is usually so glaringly unsaid in these British period dramas and also made me laugh; loudly and often.

  2. I’m definitely seeing this for Judi Dench. She was excellent in Mrs Brown, so it will be fun to see her return to the role of Queen Victoria.

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