- Product Rating -

Victoria and Abdul

| November 7, 2017

Is there ever a movie where you’re just dragging your feet while going to see, but you see it anyways because you don’t really have anything else to do? I like to think that I have a pretty entertaining and fulfilling life, but then there are times where I just feel so passive and void of any other priorities to attend to that I see movies like Victoria and Abdul. This is something that always looked bad, and it is bad, but not in the ways that I expected, so in that way, I guess I’m thankful in some weird, masochistic way.

Stephen Frears’s latest continues his downward streak with simple, repetitive, and corny scenes strung together on the charisma of the lead performer, but it’s harder to forgive because of just how unaware of itself it is. Its humor is kitschy, the central relationship is overly simplified, and its treatment of non-Western culture is broad, glib, and condescending. Most of all, though, it’s boring. It’s a movie where the protagonist gives her servant buddy a picture of herself for a gift and the movie plays it as a heartwarming, honest moment—that’s the movie as a whole in 15 seconds.

“Based on true events… mostly,” as the opening title card declares, the film follows Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) in 1887 England, in which an Indian servant named Abdul Kari (Ali Fazal) is sent to present her a ceremonial coin. Victoria, usually apathetic and bored, is taken aback by the existence of a mystical and alluringly foreign brown person in question. The two quickly forge a friendship to the dismay of everyone else in the empire, not so much because of the class difference, but because of his being Indian and Muslim.

That’s about all there is to Victoria and Abdul as it just kind of flops around between manipulatively emotional beats and corny, shouty humor, often by way of the British empire condescending the people of color and the film not playing it with any irony or awareness of such institutionalized racism. What’s ostensibly a story about the melding of cultures and how beautiful that can be is really just an excuse to mount another handsome period piece with little substance and nothing new to say, especially nowadays. As Victoria relieves Abdul of his lowly duties so he can teach her Urdu and the Quran, it’s clear that the film doesn’t paint him as a fleshed-out person—he’s just a queen’s cultural boy toy.

It’s all so passé that the film, both in its dramatic and more comical moments, relies on the talents of the cast. Dench gives a typically solid performance, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen from her before. Supporting players include Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, and Olivia Williams, but Frears’s direction leaves their talents underused, as does the script from Lee Hall (War Horse), the latter of which is full of unrealistic dialogue that clashes with the content of the film. The editing is similarly bad, often chopping together opposing shots at jarring velocities or leaving shots hanging without discernible purposes. What’s notable about Victoria and Abdul is that it isn’t inherently problematic. It very well could have been a heartwarming tale for all ages, a good movie for grandmothers to see with their grandchildren.

However, it’s the failed humor strung about so consistently that makes the film obnoxious and regressive. The main issue, though, is that it’s boring. The film lacks enough forward momentum, coasting lazily on the pedigree of its cast. Very little actually happens, and when it does happen, it’s entirely predictable from the beginning with no freshness to hand over to the audience. It’s so safe in the dullest of ways, alienating much of its audience and displaying no ambitions to work for more than the crowd wanting to see something that’s a filmic equivalent of comfort food—leftover Indian comfort food.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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