'Victoria and Abdul' scores on every
Victoria and Abdul defines the biopic "based on a true story." Not one single false step. No blurred foci. Under Stephen Frears' impeccable direction, Lee Hall's script, based on Shrabani Basu's remarkable research, shines into the far back reaches of the theater. The cast, topped by Dame Judi Dench, acquits itself beautifully.
Only in recent history have the journals of Abdul Karem turned up and, then, only as Basu was mid-research on the life of Queen Victoria's closest clerk during the last 12 years of her life. England, starting with the Queen's family, her retinue, and household, was not best pleased that their monarch was interested in befriending a brown man. And not just any brown man, but a brown one with a deep commitment to his Muslim faith and two wives shrouded in full-length burquas. Abdul became not only her munshi, her teacher, but also her confidante in matters Indian. He taught her Urdu, which she demanded to learn as Empress of India, over which England had ruled for 40 years. It was meet and right.
Frears' most recent works include The Queen and Philomena, among many laudable titles. His understanding of farce shows beautifully as he pricks class consciousness throughout Victoria and Abdul. He also aptly balances the script of Hall, who has shown his fine way with a pen in works from Billy Elliott to War Horse. And then there's the acting. Dame Judi is, of course, the best as she rises from a fat, arthritic old lady to a woman starched under the adoring eye of Abdul, played so well by Ali Fazal. Eddie Izzard, Tim Piggott-Smith, Michael Gambon, and Fenella Woolgar are commendable. Danny Cohen's cinematography is breath-taking as is the production designed by Alan MacDonald. Victoria and Abdul rises to this occasion.