‘Victoria dan Abdul’ goes skin-deep on great story
Not surprisingly, the movie is exquisitely appointed, in the spirit of old Merchant-Ivory productions, and often quite funny. In one scene, a hall filled with elegantly dressed guests race to keep up as the queen rapidly devours her dinner, with the waiters instructed to serve and remove the multiple courses at her pace.
There is a certain fascination in seeing these two people — sovereign and servant — bridge the cultural divide, but the movie would pack more of an emotional wallop if it dug deeper beneath its well-manicured surface. “I’m so lonely,” Victoria heartbreakingly confesses at one point, which still doesn’t do much to clarify why Abdul occupies that void.
Mostly, the film serves as an opportunity to savor Dench’s regal performance, while highlighting the cruelty of British colonialism and in no small way the cultural rifts and distrust that still linger.
Like that aforementioned banquet, “Victoria & Abdul” is in some respects a sumptuous feast. Yet it’s one that doesn’t prove substantial enough, ultimately, to be wholly satisfying.
“Victoria & Abdul” will open in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 22 before expanding to other cities. It’s rated PG-13.
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