Victoria & Abdul

Decades ago, director Stephen Frears did a few movies that were okay, but highly overrated (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters). I hated his Florence Foster Jenkins recently, but loved his movie Philomena. He took the star of that, Dame Judi Dench, and cast her perfectly in this, playing Queen Victoria. It was just over 10 years ago that Frears gave us The Queen with Helen Mirren. But why use Mirren again when Dench was so good in Mrs. Brown?

This movie focuses on the last years of Queen Victoria’s life, and her friendship with an Indian. It was condensed into a few years, even though it was a 14 year friendship. As bored as my wife and I were watching it, I’m glad they condensed it.

The movie was inspired by the Shrabani Basuand book (Lee Hall and Billy Elliot wrote the screenplay). I was tempted to check the book and see if they covered things a lot better than this movie did. For example, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) never mentions his wife to the Queen. Is that because he was going to possibly scam her a bit? He also never mentions to his wife at the train station, what this is all about.

The movie also doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedic farce, or some stuffy period piece and the whole thing is uneven. It’s never all that humorous, and I spent most of the movie wondering why the Queen would be so interested in this guy. He has a nice smile, but really…with a movie that has a Harold & Maude type of vibe, you need to show us why these two would be so fond of each other. I want to watch a movie like this and root for their friendship to blossom. I’m not supposed to be sitting there thinking the same thing Prince Bertie (played brilliantly by Eddie Izzard) was. Perhaps her friendship was just her way of sticking it to everyone.

And why were all the other staff/family members so one-dimensional?

The film was also stuffed with so many cliches (for example, people standing by a closed door eavesdropping, as it opens).

Abdul was a clerk in a prison, and because of his height, he was chosen to give the Empress of India a Mohar (commemorative coin). Another tall guy can’t make it, so the shorter Mohammad (Adeel Akhtar, who was a lot of fun as the brother in The Big Sick) ends up stuck in the middle of all this.

Orders are given not to look at her Majesty, but of course, Abdul does. Because of that, and him kissing her feet on their second meeting, they become the best of friends (huh?).

This is the type of movie that gets lots of nominations during awards season for the fancy costumes. But instead of costume design, it would’ve been nice if Frears had some interesting things happen, instead of the Queen looking at a rotten mango or learning about Indian rugs.

Dench was terrific in the role, but I thought of something. With actors we love, the cliche you sometimes hear is “I could watch Judi Dench read the phone book.”

Well, I think that might have been as interesting as this cliche-riddled borefest.

There’s a scene where Dench falls asleep at a dinner. Art imitated life, as I fell asleep about 10 minutes after that.

1 star out of 5, and I’ll arch my eyebrow like Izzard at any critic that tries convincing me this was good.