Victoria & Abdul: a fun twist on the unlikely friendship trope

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in Victoria & Abdul.
Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in Victoria & Abdul.

UNLIKELY friendships between odd couples are a common enough topic in films, but the fun twist with Victoria & Abdul is the historical context and lack of underlying romance.

During the 1800s, Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) is chosen to present a gift to Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) for her Golden Jubilee.

Despite strict behavioural rules, the young man locks eyes with the stuffy, crusty Queen and, intrigued by his handsomeness, she keeps him on to teach her about Indian culture and the language.

The two become friendly to the point the Queen decks out a wing in the palace for Abdul and his family – much to the anger of her son and house staff.

A major bonus point in this otherwise familiar story that develops in a routine fashion has is that there is not a smidge of romance between the two leads – not even a hint.

It is rare that we see friendship depicted between a man and a woman without it toying with an underlying sexual quality.

Director Stephen Frears, the man behind Mrs Henderson Presents, The Queen and Philomena, dishes up what he does best: a light, heart-warming experience with a tinge of pathos that appeals mainly to the older crowd.

That is not necessarily a criticism; it is a demographic often overlooked that deserves to be catered for.

However, Frears appears to be settled in an awfully comfortable position in his storytelling.

Victoria & Abdul (PG)
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal
Three and a half stars
In cinemas now

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