An Unusual Perspective: When we think of films about royalty, we are likely to be thinking of grand, sweeping romances like 2009's The Young Victoria, or scheming political sagas dressed up in medieval finery as with 1998's Elizabeth. Victoria and Abdul is something different altogether, and seeks to humanize the Queen Victoria legend by focusing on her far less glamorous years, and her unlikely friendship with an Indian servant, Abdul. Abdul is the character we meet first, and we view Victoria's world through his lens. Abdul travels from India to England to participate in Queen Victoria's golden jubilee, and the two strike up an unexpected friendship after Abdul breaks protocol to make eye contact with her. Through Abdul, we experience the life of, not a monarch, but an irascible, sharp-witted, lonely old woman with a wealth of curiosity about other lands and cultures. This unusual perspective on Queen Victoria makes her more personable; it makes the comedy funnier and warmer, and it connects us better to the heavier drama. While the film isn't always necessarily historically accurate, and while narrative interest does occasionally drop, overall it connects us with these two characters and makes us relate to them, despite their highly unusual situation.
The Star of the Show: While Ali Fazal is warm and engaging to watch as Abdul, the real star of the show is, of course, Judi Dench who is in her element as the sharp, snappish monarch. Judi Dench, of course, hardly ever puts a foot wrong, but as this character in particular, as Queen Victoria, she shines. The character of Queen Victoria shouldn't be lovable, and at its beginning, the movie almost risks falling into a caricature of the Queen. She's a morbidly obese, impatient, angry woman, who won't even slow down when she's eating so that everyone else can catch up. But, with Judi Dench at the helm, Victoria becomes so much more than a caricature of a grumpy old woman. She's both lovable and sympathetic. The best thing about Dench's performance is the sense of loneliness, and tiredness she gives the character. We get the sense of a woman who is merely going through the motions, waiting to die, until Abdul stumbles into her life and brightens it. It gives the relationship between the two characters more purpose, more believability and more emotion.