This is a true story. Kind of. It is, for the most part, accurate, but with certain historical inaccuracies, sacrificed in order to benefit this as a film rather than making it a documentary. And that’s fine. It’s more than fine. It leads to a narratively flawed, often tedious but delightful enough little movie that does just enough right, making it very difficult not to enjoy. We follow the story of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench), decades into her rule over England. She’s lonely, fat and on her last days, and that’s when she meets an Indian clerk named Abdul (Ali Fazal). Together, the two of them strike up an unlikely, often frowned up friendship that causes uproar within the political parties.
Unfortunately, for as good of a performance as she gives, the way her character’s written often makes her scenes tough to sit through. They start out slow and boring, perfectly encapsulating her dull lifestyle, but not in a humourous and entertaining way. It’s just uninteresting. She becomes a boring character for the first third of the movie. Then, everything changes once Ali Fazal’s Abdul takes on a more prominent role, and gets Victoria to start living again. She finds purpose and happiness. He’s the first real friend she’s had in years, and their offbeat chemistry bounces from the screen.
The film’s biggest downfall, however, is its inability to stick with a tone. It leaps about from quirky comedy to politically charged period piece to family drama to sour, depressing tearjerker. Every scene jolts between seriousness and a lighthearted comedy. The ultimate conclusion, while quite the downer, does have a bitter sweet sentimentality to it, wrapping the whole thing together quite nicely, but the film seems to doubt whether or not that final tone is the right one. It ends about four times, simply to create a conclusion for each of its many tones. This isn’t an over plotted story. It just feels like it.
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