The British people have a great ability to laugh at themselves. They have perfected self deprecation into a art form!
Victoria and Abdul, is a tragic /comic look at the reign of Queen Victoria, the longest serving monarch in British history.
Set in 1888, by then the British have been ruling India for nearly thirty years. it gives us the glimpse of a monarch who has been in mourning for years after the death of her husband and the loss of her friend John Brown.
Her sheer indifference to colour, etiquette , finesse or any belief or enthusiasm for life or future is made very clear when the film opens, she is seen snoring loudly under the bedclothes. When her chamber maids come and literally haul her out from under the bed clothes. She passes her days with a permanent frown ,not making any eye contact and being obsessed with her bowel moments literally stuffing herself with food copiously .
Until that is, a handsome young man is sent over from India to present her with a ceremonial coin called Mohra, they needed a tall man and he fitted the bill, there meant to have been two young tall men, but the other had an “accident” with an elephant ,and his replacement was a short man, who hated everything about England! Being paranoid about the British people ,weather and the food he just couldn’t bring himself to see any joy in travelling to London !
Abdul on the other hand was handsome,adventrous and full of enthusiasm to meet the Empress of India.
The first encounter ,when the Queen raises her glance, (normally she is too engrossed in shovelling food in her mouth,with her head down and the occasional grunts in way of conversation), Judi Dench is remarkable in producing that glint in her eye ,full of desire and admiration . Just one of her face shows that the queen is smitten.
What follows is rather a tender and gentle friendship, at no stage there is any suggestion of any inappropriate relationship. The queen is simply thrilled and touched by the devotion of this rather good looking colourful man, who stand out among those old colourless bland crowd surrounding her. Abdul brings her a different type of deference ,devotion and flattery.
There are moments ,when there are hints that the queen thinks of Abdul more than her “Munshi” or her teacher. When he mentions his wife back in India, the shock on her face and her protest that he has misled her by not telling her that he is married.
Judi Dench is superb as usual, her portrayal of the moody royal ,frustrated and lonely ,and then being transformed to a smiling and happier woman who is so enjoying the attentions of a younger man is great.
The court and the heir to her throne ,her son ( she calls him ‘an embarrassment”), are obviously dismayed, alarmed and angry by the monarchs affection and attention to the “Hindu” and the “coloured man’. and do everything they can to break up this liaison.
The film is very funny at times , and obviously meant to be a light hearted entertaining movie, and pokes fun mercilessly on the British obsessions and traditions ,but also on Indian and Muslim culture. When Abdul’s wife arrives fully clad in Burqua ,with her mother in tow ,there are some very funny moments. Once when Abdul wonders about the identity of the black shrouded women’s to which one is his wife/mother in law is!
Mostly the film pokes fun at the royal household, the prince of Wales and the royal officials, Tim pigeon-Smith is superb as the chief man of the royal household.
The end is rather sad though predictable, I expect it gives the movie gravitas and the British trend of blaming themselves.
On the whole it is a highly entertaining film, a cheerful way to spend a cold evening. How historically correct it is , is somehow seems insignificant.