Special Presentations

Victoria & Abdul

Stephen Frears

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Acclaimed British auteur Stephen Frears reunites with his Philomena star, Academy Award winner Judi Dench, in this charming dramedy chronicling the friendship between Queen Victoria and a decades-younger Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.

Over the past decade, Stephen Frears, one of Britain's most durable and exciting filmmakers, has made a specialty of directing superb films about spirited septuagenarian women both royal (The Queen) and (not really so) common (Mrs. Henderson Presents, Philomena, Florence Foster Jenkins). This new romp through the staterooms of 19th-century England returns to the former, with a seventysomething Queen Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) as one of its eponymous subjects. There is another theme to Victoria & Abdul that neatly ties into the arc of Frears' filmography: that of race.

The film recounts the fascinating and true tale of a penniless young Indian man, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who finds favour with a monarch who ruled over about a quarter of the globe at the time, including Abdul's colonized homeland. Chosen to present a ceremonial coin on behalf of British India to the Queen as a part of her Golden Jubilee in 1887, Adbul travels from his home in what is now Uttar Pradesh to London for this relatively straightforward, but ultimately intimidating, task. Job done, he just wants to return home, but the elderly Victoria, smitten with him in a maternal way, requests that he stay on as a kind of advisor. In no time he is cooking her curries, talking to her about his culture, and being elevated to the post of official clerk, or Munshi, becoming an indispensable part of the household — and state.

Frears gives Victoria & Abdul a light, comedic touch, moving brilliantly through the crusty English aristocracy while offering an endearing princess-and-pauper tale.

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