Watched: 4 January
A typically lavish British heritage piece that feels very familiar from its very first moments, mostly because Dame Judi Dench has been cast once again as Queen Victoria (and she confidently inhabits the role, delivering exactly the kind of performance you would expect). The film is about the monarch’s relationship with Muslim ‘moshi’ Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who initially leaves India for England to fulfill a minor role as a servant in a grand state banquet, before later becoming a kind of cross between teacher, confidant and consort.
There are some subtle and not-so-subtle condemnations of Empirical superciliousness and cruelty, largely facilitated by the overtly racist, utterly hateable supporting characters and their constant mistrust of and nastiness towards Abdul; and with regard to that I liked the way that there was no attempt by director Stephen Frears to provide some kind of redemptive arc for (or give softer edges to) the objectionable figures in Victoria’s inner circle played by Paul Higgins and Eddie Izzard, the latter of whom is playing somewhat against type as the Queen’s son and future king. Overall, though, it feels like the two main characters are too nice, their relationship becomes too strong too quickly, and in Victoria’s case there’s an unrealistic liberal streak that feels false to me. I can understand why the Hindustani Times’ reviewer branded the film “a fake smile”. (**½)