Twenty years after 1997’s Mrs. Brown, in which Judi Dench played a newly widowed Queen Victoria who develops a close friendship with a royal groundskeeper, she’s back as the 20-years-older monarch who, in the last years of her reign, develops a close friendship with servant Abdul Karim (the absolutely delightful Ali Fazel). A clerk plucked from obscurity and sent from India to England to help in the 1887 celebration of Victoria’s golden jubilee, he’s a real sweetie, and she adopts him as a diverting companion. Director Stephen Frears mines good-natured humor out of the outrageousness of royal existence, but much sharper are the cutting observations on the privilege and prejudice of those surrounding the Queen—including her son, the Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard)—who cannot abide a commoner so close and influential to Victoria. This true story (“mostly,” an opening card notes wryly), while charming, does not ignore the deeply problematic issues of historical colonialism, and there is a resonance for today, too, almost an admonishment to be more open to learning about other cultures—perhaps particularly the ones that seem extra-foreign and scary.
Director: Stephen Frears
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward, Lee Hall, Amelia Granger, Liza Chasin, Christine Langan and Joe Oppenheimer
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams, Eddie Izzard, Simon Callow, Tim Pigott-Smith, Adeel Akhtar, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Wadham, Deano Bugatti, Robin Soans and Ruth McCabe