Twenty years after first appearing in a role she was born to play Judi Dench returns to the big screen as the ageing Queen Victoria – and she’s just as majestic and imperial as she was the first time round.
Back in 1997, Dench starred as the monarch in Mrs Brown, opposite a rather wonderful Billy Connolly. Here she is teamed with Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim, a young Indian servant who catches her eye and soon becomes her firm favourite.
Members of her court are shocked at the attachment between the pair and plot to sideline the young Muslim and his growing influence over Victoria, but this queen is not for turning and the harder her advisors and heir Bertie (Eddie Izzard) collude in Abdul’s downfall, the more adamant she becomes that he will remain as her constant companion.
Of course, Dench is as magnificent as she always is but Ali Fazal proves a good match for her. His performance, all twinkly eyes and winning smiles, is charm personified and if true to historical fact shows why Victoria came to rely on him so heavily.
There’s are some gloriously funny scenes as the Royal court ties itself into knots trying to think of ways to get rid of a man it sees as a chancer and social climber and some fabulous location work (especially at Osborne House, Victoria’s residence on the Isle of Wight). In one long, extremely detailed banquet scene sequence a hyperactive pageboy runs the length and breadth of the house as he relays barked orders between the banqueting room and the kitchens, all watched with quizzical wonder by Abdul.
Director Stephen Frears works the political and social elements of the relationship into the story in a seamless manner and although there is a whiff of middle-class, comfort food, feel-good stodginess to the film, it is also effortlessly entertaining.
It’s certainly not cutting-edge, but most definitely a shoo-in for the luvvie-fest that is the BAFTAs.