Lavish costumes and location photography cannot help this thinly plotted, dull film with its anachronistic politics. It takes what is a genuinely fascinating late life obsession of Queen Victoria with a handsome young Indian clerk and drains it of its spikiness and shoe-horns it into politically correct nonsense. While still apparently in mourning for her long-dead husband Albert, Victoria had already conducted a scandalous romance with her Scottish servant Mr Brown (also depicted on film with Judi Dench as the Queen.) In her final decade, she took fancy (literally, creepily) to a young muslim Urdu-speaking Indian. The spikiness of the relationship comes from its objectification of the young male, but also the fact that she used him to learn about the culture of her dominion which she had never visited. In reality, he was the fawning man we see on screen, but also potentially a chancer (as are all courtiers more or less). His brother in law was selling Victoria's jewels in London and he was using her to advance the cause of his father's pension. Did Abdul really believe in deference and service or was he on the make? Stephen Frears banal film never bothers asking the tough questions - about Victoria's frustrated sexuality and exploitation of Abdul - about Abdul's motivations - about the dangerous situation in India with the rise of the independence movement, and Abdul's potential role in gaining favour for the Muslim League. It's only interested in an anachronistic tale of love across the class, race and religious divide. Judi Dench's Victoria is thus a radically anti-racist Queen with an enquiring mind, embattled by her small-minded Royal Household, as embodied in her pantomime-villain son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard). The whole thing is slow-moving, and so uncurious about motives as to be a profoundly boring watch.
VICTORIA & ABDUL has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film played Venice and Toronto and opened in September 2017.
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