It's PG-13. I'm not sure for what. If you could't guess, one of the major themes of the movie is racism towards the people of India during Victoria's rule. But I don't quite remember anything that is all that shocking to even deliver a PG-13 rating. I'm pretty sure if the intended audience is not a child, it will automatically get a PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
Okay, Stephen Frears. You officially confuse me. You were this guy. You may not have ever been THE guy, but you were certainly more than your regular guy. Then you made Florence Foster Jenkins and you made my list. Maybe you are getting these scripts that are composed of garbage words, but why are you making movies like this now. I'm not saying Victoria & Abdul is on the level of annoying that Florence Foster Jenkins was, but you made Dangerous Liasons. YOU MADE HIGH FIDELITY! Seriously. High Fidelity to Florence Foster Jenkins. What happened, man? I'm not saying you are always going to be punk rock, but I'm about to write a review about how ol' Judi Dench finds Indian people charming. Come on...
If you didn't get my tone, I didn't love Victoria & Abdul. I didn't hate it. Heck, I can even say I laughed at appropriate times once in a while. But Victoria & Abdul really leans into the heartwarming a bit too hard. This is where all of my detractors get off this review and make merciless memes about me and how I hate anything heartwarming. That's a lie and Paddington 2 can prove it. It's just that I don't like undeserved heartwarming. The movie is really riding its tone as much as it can and it really isn't worried about giving these characters nuanced levels. (I'd also like to ask, I thought that Judi Dench had retired from acting due to health issues. What's going on there? Sorry, back to the review.) Considering that this is meant to be based on a true story (even with the cheeky "mostly". What's up with that?), the story structure relies on tropes far too much to actually do the work of building up an actual movie. Victoria is an ol' grumpus at the beginning of the film. She meets Abdul, played by Ali Fazal, and suddenly she's not so grumpy. But everyone wants her grumpy because they don't like people from India. That's it. That's the whole darn movie. Part of what makes me a little mad about the whole thing is that there is a real set of characters and ideas in here. But rather than developing these nuanced characters to where there is a real respect between the two of them, the only connection that the two really have are a knowledge that they are meant to be friends. The staff of the castle tells Abdul not to look the Queen in her eyes. He looks her in the eyes. Did they know that Victoria has the ability to read souls, because history just got a whole lot more interesting if that was the case? Then Abdul does some goofy crap and Victoria finds it charming. It almost seems like they are taking the complexity of race relations and just McDonaldsing the whole thing. Abdul, equally, has no reason to love Victoria. Mohammed, played by Adeel Akhtar, brings up some really excellent points. The British monarchy was subjugating his people for generations. They are not at the end of the monarchy's reign, but they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The fact that Abdul is not, at least in the film's version of history, manipulating the queen for the betterment of his people kind of makes him a light bad guy who just enjoys the attention that the queen bestows upon him.
The story kind of spirals out of there. The primary conflict is that no one wants Abdul in this glorified position that he seemingly instantly receives. This isn't the worst conflict in the world and I can see why the film chose it to put front and center, especially considering the tone of the movie. But it also doesn't have the legs to carry the movie all of the way through. What it does, however, is take characters who could be three-dimensional and interesting and makes them completely unsympathetic and unrealistic. There are some pretty impressive mustaches to twirl in this movie and Frears probably had to continue to tell himself to not have Eddie Izzard or Michael Gambon literally twirl those mustaches. This movie kind of asks the audience to completely remove logic from the equation and to think with their hearts. Sometimes that's called for because there is a real emotional connection with the characters or the situation. However, I never really liked either protagonist that much, so I kept letting my head take the wheel. In Victoria & Abdul, Frears just keeps taking these emotional shortcuts and it makes this movie extremely disposable. The oddest thing is that the actual design of this movie is contrary to this whole opinion. There is absolutely nothing lazy in the design and cinematography of this movie. It seems that outside of the narrative, everything is top notch. What drew my attention to even watching this movie is that it is up for an Academy Award for costume design. (If it's on the list, I'm going to try and watch it.) I am amazed it didn't go up for overall production design because that stuff is very impressive. Even the acting isn't all that bad. Sure, Eddie Izzard is just being Eddie Izzard again. This happens to be one of his evil Eddie Izzard roles, so don't be thinking that he's going to be telling jokes all over this movie. But technically, there is nothing wrong with this movie. Perhaps I'm being mad at Stephen Frears for directing a movie with a pretty weak script. Maybe something catastrophic happened in the editing process that made the movie focus on the antagonists who kind of have reason to be nervous about an outsider gaining instant political power with no basis in reality. Also, if I have to hear Judi Dench scream the word "Munshi" one more time, I might lose it.
I don't know if this movie has potential. I keep thinking of the women in burqas and how they don't really get the characterization they deserve. Having Abdul so devoted to Victoria is such an odd choice considering that he has a family. There are moments that are dropped, like Abdul's STD (maybe that's why it's PG-13. I take it back) that aren't really fully explored. It seemed like the movie really wanted us to like Abdul just because and I never really understood why. He seemed like an okay dude, but he also wasn't that compelling. The best I can see is that he represented a large culture that Queen Victoria was irresponsibly ignorant of. He became something larger than himself, but that doesn't explain why he consistently neglects his family and tells only partial stories of. I get the vibe that Abdul loved the attention that he received and that was about it. It just seems odd to put the weight of a movie on that kind of foundation.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.