If your Anglophile history archive is missing the story of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, there's nothing like a spicy historical drama to change that.
Based on a 2010 book of the same name by Shrabani Basu, the story is billed as the mostly true, somewhat rom-com version of an unlikely relationship. It starts off funny enough (watching Her Majesty—portrayed by Judi Dench—shovel food into her mouth, then fall asleep before the main course) and moves to laugh-out-loud quips between the pair of men from India as they make their way to the presence of the Queen. The odd couple of tall, thin Karim (Ali Fazal, Furious 7) and the shorter, wider Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar, The Dictator) are referred to in the palace as "the Hindus" despite that they're of the Muslim faith, and this is comical at first, then a depressing indicator of the moral danger of imperialism. The whole of the plot soon enough turns darker, as Victoria's household, including her dickish son Bertie, the Prince of Wales (spot-on by an almost unrecognizable Eddie Izzard), turn against Abdul, and ultimately her.
Dame Dench's queen is a wonder to behold, her face and body taking on the deep reality of all her 82 years as she portrays the long-serving monarch in the final years before her death at nearly the same age, 81. Dench's delivery and poise feel regal, except for a few scenes at the outset where there seems a too-abrupt change between her stiff-lipped disinterest and her wet-eyed admiration of a handsome newcomer.
We can't help but drop into memories of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when we see the sparkling interaction between her character and the young Indian man she befriends. Both movies touch on the same themes, and this one's ring of true life events increases its value.
+ Historical drama that's not boring
– Some abrupt transitions and sadness
Victoria & Abdul
Directed by Stephen Frears
With Dench and Fazal
Violet Crown, PG-13, 112 min.