Hot Take: There’s something about Victoria & Abdul and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s just… off! This movie is off!
Hate is a really strong word and I don’t like to use it very often. However, I hated the moviegoing experience provided by Victoria & Abdul. It could be the style which director Stephen Frears chooses. The experience left me feeling awfully similar to last year’s Florence Foster Jenkins, another Frears directorial work that I particularly loathed. He also directed The Program in 2015 which was a film I actually enjoyed but remember not being thrilled with the directorial style there, either. So, maybe it has something to do with Frears. It felt like something more than the director, though. There was a cartoonish element to the relationship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) that made the film feel, at times, fluffy and, at other times, condescending to the overall message. It also feels superficial and barely dares to scratch the surface of the story and delivers a hollow story with a focus on Queen Victoria that puts the spotlight on Dench’s performance (unsurprisingly) and makes Adbul somewhat of a sideshow.
Victoria & Abdul also has a bipolar nature. The film wants to be funny and feels like a full fledged comedy for the first half and that has nothing to do with the presence of Eddie Izzard as Berti, Prince of Wales. Fact checking finds that the portrayal of both Victoria and Abdul do not seem completely accurate. The biggest problem with this are the fundamental differences between the real life story and the characterization. Victoria wasn’t an anti-racist progressive and Abdul wasn’t a subservient saint. While Victoria’s relationship with Abdul proved tolerance, she made little impact to the imperialist ways of her country toward the British colonies. Once the film takes a dramatic turn, it feels more off. Fact checking finds that while the movie portrays Victoria as a headstrong monarch who wants to bestow knighthood on Abdul for his service to her, history shows it was Abdul who pushed hard for the knighthood. Even in its most dramatic scenes, the film never really feels like it takes things completely serious which makes a scene where one of the monarchy’s doctors examines Abdul and discovers he has gonorrhea and then tells Queen Victoria only to have her yell at the doctor and exclaim, “Why haven’t you treated him?” neither funny nor dramatic. Just odd.
By the end of Victoria & Abdul, I no longer cared about their story. The film overstayed its welcome and I was ready for it to be over. As most movies “based on true events” do, Victoria & Abdul ends with an epilogue which I barely noticed. I was too busy clamoring for the exit. While it feels as if the relationship between these two was definitely worth exploring, the movie never made it interesting enough for me to care. By the end, I only cared to leave as fast as I could.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Judi Dench
It’s hard to find fault with her performance as she adds to the overall film even if the finished product leaves something to be desired.
- The Likenesses
If you look at pictures of Berti (who became King Edward once Queen Victoria died) and an in-character Eddie Izzard, it’s a hell of a likeness. This applies across the board as the film expended a lot of energy to be visually accurate even if it played a little bit with the historical accuracy.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
There’s times where you can see a grittier film below the surface but the film plays it safe and comes across as superficial and hollow.
- Haven’t We Seen Enough of These Films?
Are we still interested in all the king’s horses and all the king’s men? Well, in this case, queen’s?