Victoria and Abdul

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Victoria and Abdul Movie Poster Image
Dench is fabulous in fascinating but underdeveloped story.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 112 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Despite differences in class and race, two people can bond over universal experiences and feelings. Knowing and caring for someone unlike you can be beneficial/advantageous. Curiosity and gratitude are themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Queen Victoria is portrayed as being anti-racist (she scolds her son and her staff for being "racialists") and as truly caring for Abdul. And Abdul genuinely loves the queen and feels blessed to serve her. Victoria was the most powerful woman of her age. Some characters exhibit bias/prejudice, both against Abdul specifically and people of color in general.

Violence

The royal physician threatens Abdul by pushing him against a wall and temporarily choking him. A man coughs up blood. After Queen Victoria's death, King Edward VII has security officers break into Abdul's cottage, push his wife/mother, and destroy all personal correspondence/evidence of a relationship between his mother and her Muslim friend/advisor. They burn all of his letters and other belongings. A dead body is shown.

Sex
Language

Language isn't frequent but includes "bloody," "s--t," "hell," "damn," "arsehole," "d--ks," and "stinking." "For god's sake" and "Jesus H. Christ" used as exclamations. Some race-based insults directed at Abdul. A possible use of "f--k" but it's muffled.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking (mostly champagne and wine) at royal meals, receptions.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Victoria and Abdul is a fact-based drama about the elderly Queen Victoria's (Judi Dench) unique relationship with Abdul Karim, a Muslim Indian man who starts off as her servant until she elevates his status, scandalizing her family and household staff. Expect occasional strong language ("s--t," "bloody," "arsehole") and a couple of disturbing scenes: one in which royal security officers harass a Muslim family and burn their belongings, and another in which a man coughs up blood. A dead body is shown, and a few racist remarks are said in reference to Abdul. It has a clear message about very different people being able to bond over universal experiences and feelings, and curiosity and gratitude are themes. Families who watch together may want to discuss the film's historical context, as well as how fact-based dramas sometimes take liberties for the sake of fiction.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byPaul P. September 24, 2017

Gentle and elegant film, well paced and intelligent

There's a maturity required for this film and so I've said 10 and above, although my eight year old who loves history sat through this without issue a... Continue reading
Adult Written byzabou3 November 22, 2017
Teen, 15 years old Written byBrigidArmbrust May 29, 2018
Teen, 14 years old Written byMike Owen August 30, 2018

Dench is brilliant as usual but overall this film is not worth watching

I would have probably given this film one star if it weren't for Judi Dench, who tries her best to keep this film from failing, but ultimately this film is... Continue reading

What's the story?

VICTORIA AND ABDUL chronicles the unique relationship between the elderly Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and a young Indian Muslim man named Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) -- one of two Indians chosen to present the queen with a gift during her Golden Jubilee celebrations. The year is 1887, and Victoria is, after 50 years on the throne, tired and bored with the endless rounds of ceremonial duties and banquets. Spotting the handsome Abdul brings her some joy, so he and his fellow Indian servant, Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), are told to stay in England to serve the queen. Soon, Abdul charms her with his poetic musings, and she elevates his status to that of "Munshi" ("teacher" in Urdu) and keeps him (and eventually his family) as part of the royal household. Meanwhile, Victoria's friendship with (and apparent crush on) the "brown," low-born man, scandalizes everyone around her, including her oldest son, Bertie, the Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard); her private secretary, Sir Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith); her personal physician, Dr. Reid (Paul Higgins); and the prime minister (Michael Gambon). But the queen enjoys the Munshi so much that she ignores their demands and continues to keep him by her side.

Is it any good?

Dench is extraordinary as the aging monarch, but this drama doesn't quite reveal enough about the mysterious, fascinating friendship between the queen and her Indian servant-turned-mentor. Victoria and Abdul is similar in scope and sequence to 1997's John Madden-directed Mrs. Brown, in which Dench also starred as Queen Victoria and which also involved the remarkable story of the monarch's unconventional relationship with a servant who became a beloved confidante. In some ways, Abdul is even more noteworthy than the earlier film's John Brown (Billy Connolly), because, while there are no sexual rumors about his relationship with the queen, the Indian Muslim Abdul was elevated far above the Scottish Brown. In a time when British whites overtly considered themselves superior to the black and brown citizens of their extended empire, that was extraordinary.

Fazal, a Bollywood star, is definitely appealing, but his portrayal of Abdul is a little too subdued (particularly when compared to Dench's performance) to justify how deeply the queen became attached to him. Izzard is entertaining as Bertie, the Prince of Wales, who's slightly villainous in his approach to Abdul. But director Stephen Frears introduces real questions that the script never answers, and the film depicts Abdul as far too saintly to seem real, especially considering a few unsavory things revealed about him. Ultimately this is a movie you watch to see Dench nail another performance as a former queen of England -- and she's quite riveting as the bored, grumpy, aging Victoria who finally finds someone who can cure her monarchy's monotony.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether the queen and/or Abdul are role models in Victoria and Abdul. What character traits do they exhibit?

  • Does this movie make you interested in learning more about Queen Victoria, India under British rule, or other historical details?

  • How accurate do you think this version of events really is? Why do you think filmmakers might sometimes choose to alter the facts in movies based on true stories? How could you find out more?

Movie details

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