A story of friendship

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By 2017-11-05

By Nirupa Mohan
Ceylon Today Features

Judi Dench takes the lead role as the reigning royal, Queen Victoria in Victoria & Abdul. Ali Fazal stars as Abdul Karim, a man known to have been the British royal's attendant who was later her Munshi. The film is an adaptation based on a book by Shrabani Basu.

The comedic and dramatic biography focuses on the royal, at 81 years of age and in power for 62 years, ruling over a billion citizens as the longest standing monarch in history.

The film feels like an unofficial sequel to the 1997 film, Mrs. Brown, which tells a story of Scottish servant John Brown (died 1883) with whom Queen Victoria had a relationship with after the death of her husband years ahead (died 1961). This new film, tells a story set in 1887, on the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, of a friendship that made the queen have a new view and even study a new language.

The film follows the queen as she meets a humble Indian Muslim servant, who is sent from Agra, India, to present the queen with a ceremonial coin as a symbol of appreciation. On getting to know him, an unexpected friendship develops and she feels that there is much to learn in terms of cultures, heritage and even food from British-ruled India. She proceeds to learn Urdu and the Quran, with the Munshi, whom she treats like a son, as her teacher and friend.

The 112 minute film received mixed reviews, with 68% featured on Rotten Tomatoes, 6.9/10 on IMDb, 1.5/5 on Hindustan Times and 3/4 on Roger Ebert. The film by director Stephen Frears, with producers Eric Fellner, Tracey Seaward, Beeban Kidron and Tim Bevan, in collaboration with production companies BBC Films, Working Title Films, Cross Street Films and Perfect World Pictures. Rated PG-13, the film earned 40 million dollars at the worldwide box office.

This is a film that tries to play out the real life friendship between the Empress of India, who is also a grieving widow, which is even apparent in the consistent black wardrobe used throughout the film, and the servant who became like a mentor to her. But the story also focuses on the royal household and their disapproval, touching on racism. Though the film initially pokes fun at the cross-cultural difference, taking a comedic approach, it soon turns into a more dramatic narrative that feels like it's missing something.Though thought to be historic, the movie opens with "Based on a true story ... Mostly" displayed on screen.

This is a movie that centres solely on the friendship between them, the queen's refusal to listen to her advisors, household and close circle who want to destroy her friendship, and her effort to make sure that her friendship with the Munshi was not affected by this. The movie is not heavy on plot, nor does it have a strong storyline, but is one that holds a piece of history and Judi Dench's, performance makes it worth watching.

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