Towards the end of her reign, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) hires a young Indian manservant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). They become close friends despite the unease such an unlikely friendship fosters within the stuffy Victorian court; with all, including her own son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), plotting to break their alliance.
As awards seasons commences more and more biopics start rolling in, at first glance, Victoria and Abdul does seem to tick all of the award-winning boxes: based on British history, an all-star cast, and not much else…. Thankfully director Stephen Frears and Billy Elliot scribe Lee Hall manage to keep this recently discovered true story of friendship interesting and entertaining thanks to a touching screenplay that doesn’t pull back from both the humour and the tragedy of how the court reacted to the Queen’s new friendship.
Being her second time playing Victoria after 1997’s Mrs Brown, Judi Dench is fantastic as an elderly Queen who derives joy from of the time she spends with Abdul, and Ali Fazal delivers a charming performance. Eddie Izzard and the recently deceased Tim-Pigott Smith also do fine jobs as Prince Bertie and Sir Henry Ponsonby, even if the formers’ odd attempt at a British accent is distracting at times.
Overall, not a stand out but nevertheless a crowd-pleaser, Victoria and Abdul is a pleasant surprise with genuinely emotional moments thanks mostly to Thomas Newman’s tear-jerking score. Furthermore it never becomes boring, for which this somewhat over-saturated genre can be guilty.