“No one really knows what it’s like to be queen.” There she goes again, complaining about the job while sitting on her velvet throne and rearranging the priceless jewels around her neck.
I suppose we can have a little sympathy for Queen Victoria. Still, I suspect Mel Brooks’ famous line — “It’s good to be the king,” from “History of the World, Part 1” — paints a truer picture of royal satisfaction.
In “Victoria &Abdul,” the August lady is once again portrayed by Judi Dench. You recall that Dame Judi played Queen Vicky in “Mrs. Brown,” an enjoyable study of the queen’s friendship with a boisterous Scotsman.
The new film is drawn from another period in the royal life, years after the events of “Mrs. Brown.” The queen, widowed for many years, is celebrating her Golden Jubilee of 50 years on the throne; she’s bored and sleepy and tired of monitoring her bodily functions at the order of her doctors. She’s a dotard, you might say.
Things change when an Indian clerk is brought to court as part of the Jubilee celebration. This is Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who has traveled a great distance for a purely ceremonial gesture, during which he will appear in an inauthentic “Indian” costume and then go back to India.
The queen takes a fancy to this striking young man, who seems eager to make new royal friends. Before long she’s shooing her advisers out of the room so she can learn Hindi phrases and find out what a mango is.
The advisers are played by a fine roster of British actors, including Michael Gambon and Olivia Williams. Especially perturbed by the royal intimacy is the heir to the throne, deftly played by comedian Eddie Izzard.
The true story is intriguing, and the veteran director Stephen Frears allows a few hints that Abdul’s ingratiating manner may not have been entirely innocent. There are a couple of revelations about him that cloud the issue but are never really elaborated on.
That’s the main problem with most of the film: It’s content to allow the queen to be cute and cranky, and Abdul to be charming. We receive the film’s timely lesson about how a Muslim person of color might teach something to the lily-white British elites, and it’s all very tidy and self-satisfied. A nice story, but a rather bland movie-watching experience.
“Victoria &Abdul” (2 stars)
Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, returning to her “Mrs. Brown” role) welcomes the attention of a young Indian man (Ali Fazal), causing a great fuss at court. The true story is interesting, although the movie’s cute style is fairly bland overall.
Rating: PG-13, for subject matter
Opening Friday: Pacific Place