Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Movie with Abe: Victoria and Abdul

Victoria and Abdul
Directed by Stephen Frears
Released October 6, 2017

Most epic stories about rulers involve their early and unlikely ascensions to the throne, forcing them to prove their worth with all eyes on them believing that they’re not fit for the task. In most of these cases, the rulers do manage to demonstrate their abilities and eventually earn the respect of their advisers and subjects. Making decisions that go against the wishes of those who consider themselves informed and seasoned rarely goes over well, and when it’s a ruler who is far from her new to the job, the reaction and the results are altogether different and even more judgmental.

Fifty years into her rule, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) looks forward to little in her monotonous life of daily rituals and pomp and circumstance. When she first sees Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a lowly Indian clerk dispatched to give her a ceremonial gift who accidentally disobeys his strict instructions not to make eye contact with the queen, everything changes. She seeks to build a personal and public relationship with the kind servant who treats her in an altogether freer and more honest way than anyone else around her does, a move that causes much unrest in her court and leads to those closest to her trying to have her declared unfit to carry out her duties.

This film, unlike so many about this kind of subject, is decidedly light, full of humor and amusing scenarios in which Victoria must cast aside contradictory viewpoints from those below her and Abdul earns himself a sparking place in her eye much to the contempt of others. This is a very straightforward and rather sincere story, one that shows a true friendship building between two people of starkly disparate classes, driven by curiosity from both parties about how the other sees the world.

Dench, who played this same role twenty years ago in her first-nominated Oscar performance, “Mrs. Brown,” is the perfect choice to portray Victoria, who rolls her eyes with excessive emphasis just as she should and then comes alive as more and more resistance emerges to her newfound dynamic. Opposite her, Fazal is energetic and sweet, and the two make a surprisingly convincing platonic screen couple. There’s nothing particularly distinctive about the filmmaking or writing, but this story speaks for itself, offering new insight into one ruler who didn’t believe that she needed to play by anyone else’s rules.


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