Friday, 29 September 2017

Review: Victoria & Abdul

Victoria & Abdul
Cert: PG / 112 mins / Dir. Stephen Frears / Trailer

Landing in cinemas like a Sunday Night TV Drama with a Sunday Afternoon DVD cast is Victoria & Abdul, a dramatised account of Shrabani Basu's 2010 non-fiction book of the same name. It examines the platonic friendship between England's reigning 19th century monarch and Abdul Karim, a low-grade clerical administrator from Lalitpur, India, who was chosen to present to her a gift from the Empire's subjects. Dame Judi Dench stars once more as Her Majesty, while Ali Fazal takes the role of the semi-eponymous Abdul. The two-hour runtime covers approximately 15 years, albeit in a fashion which uses a title-card at the beginning, another at the end with some additional 'old-age' makeup, and nothing between.

You may be sensing my mood by this point. I hope so.

The fundamental problem here is that director Stephen Frears doesn't have that much story to actually tell. Queen Victoria befriends someone you wouldn't normally expect in accordance with royal protocols and the accepted social attitudes of the time*1. Her advisors and family aren't too keen on this. She doesn't give a shit, she's the queen. Scenes. So between the film's trailer and a broad historical knowledge, you already know pretty much what's going to happen*2.

While the film looks every bit as sumptuous as one would expect, Lee Hall's script is literal and heavy-handed, with glib witticisms and low-level slapstick frequently shoehorned into the first half attempting to create a dramatic counterpoint with the chin-stroking and institutional racism of the second. Frears takes a frankly outstanding cast and over-directs them as if the whole thing were a pantomime. Dench and Fazal overcome this by virtue of being the ones with the most to do on-screen anyway (and despite everything I'm saying here, they are both on great form), but not a single line from the supporting cast is left under-delivered*3.

In a similar vein to The Man Who Knew Infinity, there is almost certainly a more emotionally affecting story here, buried under layers of historical commentary and costume drama frippery. The memory and legacy of Abdul Karim would be better (and far more sincerely) served by making a documentary about the whole thing.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
…those films where the first half of the trailer is scored with an intricate piano solo, breaking after around 70 seconds into sweeping orchestral mode and a title card reading "the untold and/or inspirational true story".

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you're going to watch this at all, it's a Sunday afternoon DVD.
That way at least the pubs will still be open when you finish

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Probably not.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Definitely not.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Absolutely not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Although there is a Wilhelm-person, he remains silent.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Jonathan Harden's in this (as the aforementioned Wilhelm), and he's in the upcoming The Last Jedi. Don't know his character-name yet, mind, but think he's in the Resistance.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And not to be too much of an angry liberal about all this, but while it's nice to believe that Victoria may have been a decent sort underneath all the pomp and bluster of monarchy, it's hardly as if her progressive social views extended as far Her Actual British Empire; the very thing of which she was In Actual, Real Charge, which was presumably too busy pillaging and enslaving the rest of the world to take half an hour on the loo with a copy of The Guardian... [ BACK ]

*2 SPOILER: Queen Victoria is not currently alive and the film's denouement reflects this. Do not expect to see her dancing through the end-credit sequence. [ BACK ]

*3 Including, I'm sorry to say, one Eddie Izzard, portraying the then-heir Edward 'Bertie' Prince of Wales. With magnificent wardrobe and makeup, he looks the part 100%. Then opens his mouth and delivers his admittedly acerbic lines sounding exactly like Eddie Izzard™. The only way around this of course is by not casting Eddie Izzard in anything where he is required to be anything other than Eddie Izzard™. I am not a casting director, I have no say in making this happen. I love the guy to bits, but still... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment