It goes without saying that Judy Dench could play a member of the British monarchy in her sleep. Her first Oscar nomination was for her 1998 film "Mrs Brown" in which she portrayed Queen Victoria after the death of her husband Prince Albert.


That film discussed her relationship with a Scottish commoner named John Brown which caused quite a stir within the monarchy and among her staff. It was a true story and Brown wound up dying fairly young at Windsor Castle when he was 56.


Director Stephen Frears continues the saga of the famous queen when she supports the companionship of her Indian manservant Abdul Kahn (Ali Fazil) who came to her for what was supposed to be a ceremonial presentation only.

According to the film Abdul and his friend Mohammed (Adeel Aktar) were chosen randomly, Abdul because he was tall. Upon presenting the gift, Abdul broke protocol and kissed the queens feet.


She is taken by his humility and his handsomeness and requests that he stay on originally as her servant but quickly promoted him above her longstanding household help.


Much like John Brown, she allowed him to sit in and advise her on royal topics creating special titles just for him. Of course, much like with Brown, this did not sit well with her staff or her son Bertie (Eddie Izzard).


Abdul was allowed to travel back to India to retrieve his wives (Sukh Ojla) which leads to one of the more humorous scenes - the discovery that Abdul was impotent because of gonorrhea. But more importantly it led to the realization that Abdul was Muslim and not Hindu as the queen assumed. Muslims were the source of tension in India with the British rule.


Victoria nevertheless keeps him as her consort and seems to take pleasure in rousing the ire of the aristocrats who abhor Abdul - mostly because he is colored. The queen even threatens to make knight Abdul which would have broken every British protocol ever! Instead she choses a lessor title which still annoyed her staff.


As one would expect, Dench commands the screen churning out dry humorous quips and lines. She can change expressions and emote genuine feelings of anger and joy at a moments notice. Her verbal dissection of the aristocracy are noteworthy, especially when they question her sanity.


Unfortunately Fazal is as flat as a pancake. He portrays Abdul as if he is merely reading lines even as he his legitimacy is challenged by the aristocracy; he shows absolutely no emotion. It is particularly obvious as teh film takes on a more serious note towards in the third reel.


Still most of teh other casting is amusing, especially Simon Callow as Puccini trying to belt out a tune. Still, even with Denches acting chops the film has an uneven feel - except with the costuming!


"Victoria and Abdul" should have been better. However, it can't decide if it's a comedy or drama though Judy Dench gives it a royal effort. Nevertheless, it is an acceptable sequel to "Mrs. Brown".   -- GEOFF BURTON