The opening text of Victoria & Abdul goes “Based on real events…mostly.” That insertion of the last part eases the audience that though the idea and some events may have accrued, they are taking liberties. It allows us to take some of the more eccentric moments and inaccuracy’s with a pinch of salt and enjoy the moments.
We open in India where a simple man names Abdul goes about his simple duties. By chance he is selected to present Queen Victoria with a gift, simply because he is tall. So he gets shipped off to England and when the pivotal moments comes he is instructed to not to make eye contact with her majesty. Guess what happens!
Dench is actually returning to the role of Victoria. She originally played the monarch in Mrs. Brown, where oddly, was also about the Queen befriending a servant. There’s not much to write about the performance I feel, Dench has proven her chops as an actor again and again. Here she handles the part of one of the longest running monarch’s as a woman that is more than used to getting her way, but also fatigued with the repetition of ceremonies and political news. It is when this young Indian servant enters her life that she becomes reinvigorated with someone that speaks to her like an equal and has a different view of the world.
Abdul played by Ali Fazal will most likely bring a smile to your face. He himself is so smiley and optimistic but not without a sense of being grounded. He can be sad and worried, but that is understood because he has his faith that reassures him of a positive outcome. If it were not for these moments then he would most likely become grading, but with these touches he is enduring.
Typically in these kinds of movies with big named stars and based on historical events you can bet that the studio and filmmakers are seeking an Oscar for their efforts. It may well win or at least be nominated for cinematography and/or costume design. But the moments that will most likely receive a nomination, even a win. This is a moment where Dench is framed in closeup and it never cuts away and she delivers a summary of this entire woman’s life and role. This, on one hand, it obviously trying hard to win the Oscar, but also on the other it is a sharply executed performance that is very well written.
Eventually there come moments of unhappiness and sombreness. Such moments in movies come and go with varying degrees of effectiveness but these ones truly struck me. It works by starting with sugary charm and digging deeper and deeper into the characters and the way each of their worlds work as well as life as a whole we come to truly tender moments.
Historical accuracy interest me rather little, what engages me is characters and themes, the movie has these. It has charm and fun but by the end leaves you with a sense of understanding of the connections between people.