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Victoria & Abdul


Stars: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Adeel Akhtar, Simon Callow

Director: Stephen Frears

Largely a comedy that turns into a tragedy in the last reel, this is a twinkle-eyed account of an unlikely friendship. Elderly, crabby and fed-up - 'Everyone I have known and loved is dead' - a 68-year-old Queen Victoria (Dench) confronts her impending golden jubilee with a minimum of anticipation.

Thousand of miles away in India, humble clerk Abdul Karim (Fazal) finds himself and another (Akhtar) dragooned into journeying to England to present a gold Indian coin to Her Majesty. Once there, his somewhat irreverent approach soon endears himself to the crotchety monarch, and, to the horror of all concerned (except the queen), he soon becomes an indispensable part of the royal household.

Alas, in the end he is found, to the satisfaction of Victoria's unpleasant heir, Bertie (Izzard), to be something of an imposter. Meanwhile, he teaches the queen Urdu, at which she becomes impressively proficient. All attempts to remove him, however, are met with her mer majesty's displeasure.

Primarily a vehicle for the indomitable Dame Judi, the film has many amusing moments, which help prevent it from otherwise becoming something of a grind, although if you have seen its (too-long) trailer, you will already have chuckled at most of the best bits.

Even under Frears' attentive direction, moreover, the film's timeline proves a bit wobbly. It starts in 1887, but it's not until the queen refers to herself as 81 years of age at a later stage that we suddenly realise time has passed in the form of a decade or more since the beginning of the narrative.

Courtiers and such are played to the hilt by the likes of Gambon, Williams, Woolgar and the late Pigott-Smith. Relaxing entertainment with an occasional fizz of feistiness, this will go down well in the suburbs.

David Quinlan

UK 2017. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by Panalux.
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 12 Sep 2017