Bethlehem Press

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review: ‘Victoria’

Thursday, October 26, 2017 by Paul Willistein in Focus

Director Stephen Frears is enamored of the themes of royalty, the British upper-class, minorities, and societal disruption.

“Victoria And Abdul” is based on a true story of the friendship between Queen Victoria and a man from India who became her confidante.

“Victoria And Abdul” has elements of “The Queen” (2006), in which Frears directed Helen Mirren to receive an actress Oscar, and also elements of one of the first feature films Frears directed, “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985), about a Pakistani Brit opening up a laundromat. There’s also a bit of “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988), which Frears directed and which garnered three Oscars (screenplay, art direction, costume), for its comparable palace intrigue.

Unusual slices of life fascinate Frears: “High Fidelity” (2000), which takes place in a record store, and “The Grifters” (1990), about a group of con artists, for which Frears received a director Oscar nomination.

Unusual characters interest Frears: “Mrs. Henderson Presents” (2005), about a British theater troupe, and “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016), about a British opera singer wannabe.

Immigrants, assimilation (or lack there of) and the class system are themes that flow throughout Frears’ generally critically-acclaimed films.

Frears’ films dealing with social issues include “The Program” (2015) and “Philomena” (2013). For Frears, all issues are social, and mostly everything social is an issue.

The opening title card for “Victoria And Abdul” tells us that it’s “Based on real events ... mostly.” In the screenplay by Lee Hall (nominee, Oscar, screenplay, “Billy Elliot,” 2001) based on the book, “Victoria And Abdul” by Shrabani Basu, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) strikes up an unlikely friendship with Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young clerk from India.

Karim travels to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 to present to her a symbol of appreciation from British-ruled India.

Queen Victoria (1837 - 1876), befriends Karim, who becomes her Munshi (attendant). He teaches her Urdu and the Qur’an. Karim is despised by the Queen’s court.

“Victoria And Abdul” achieves cinematic emotion in the final scenes between the title characters. Up until the final third, the film is a disappointing parade of stereotypes of British royalty and also those of India descent. The cartoonish dialogue, editing (lots of major harrumphing) and clunky pacing undermines the admittedly fascinating story about an unlikely friendship. Archival photos and title cards at the film’s conclusion effectively tell a story in minutes that eludes the nearly two-hour film.

“Victoria And Abdul” is of chief interest for fans of Dame Judi Dench (seven Oscar nominations; Oscar recipient, supporting actress, “Shakespeare In Love,” 1998), whose flawless performance embodies Queen Victoria. Her glacial glare, pinched facial expressions, and droll delivery are the reasons to see the film.

Fazal is fine as Karim, but he’s given little to work with in a role written in a way that lacks depth and dimension.

There’s a solid slate of supporting actors: Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, and Olivia Williams.

Frears worked previously with several on the “Victoria And Abdul” production team.

The cinematography by Director of Photography Danny Cohen (Oscar nominee, cinematography, “The King’s Speech,” 2010) is simply lovely.

The interior settings are magnificent in the Production Design by Alan MacDonald (“Florence Foster Jenkins,” “The Queen,” “Philomena”).

The Costume Design by Consolata Boyle (two Oscar nominations, costume design, “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “The Queen”) is wonderful.

The score by Thomas Newman (14 Oscar nominations) advances the affections and conflicts.

Films that Frears directs are only as good as their screenplays. “Victoria And Abdul” doesn’t get much beyond the look of the film. The whys and wherefores are underdeveloped.

“Victoria And Abdul,”MPAA Rated Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for some thematic elements and language. Genre: Biography, Drama, History; Run time: 1 hr., 51 mins. Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous:Locations for “Victoria And Abdul” include a former royal residence, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom.

Box Office,Oct. 20: “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” scared up $21.6 million, opening at No. 1 as the Halloween season geared up, with a gloomy forecast for “Geostorm,” opening at No. 2 with $13.3 million, as “Happy Death Day” dropped two slots from No. 1 to No. 3 with $9.3 million, $40.6 million, two weeks.

4. “Blade Runner” slid down two places, $7.1 million, $74 million, three weeks. 5. “Only the Brave,” $6 million, opening. 6. “The Foreigner” moved down three spots, $5.4 million, $22.8 million, two weeks. 7. “It” floated down three places, $3.5 million, $320.2 million, seven weeks.

8. “The Snowman,” $3.4 million, opening. 9. “American Made” moved down three places, $3.1 million, $45.5 million, four weeks. 10. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” moved down three places, $3 million, $94.5 million, five weeks.

Unreel,Oct. 27:

“Suburbicon,”R: Director: George Clooney directs Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, and Jack Conley in the Comedy Thriller. Residents of a small town are upset by a home invasion.

“Jigsaw,”R: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig co-direct Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, and Hannah Emily Anderson in the Horror film. An investigation leads to John Kramer, aka “Jigsaw,” who has been dead for 10 years.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes