Victoria & Abdul

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As the Oscars approach, 'tis the season to … check out a movie that was obvious Oscar bait, but nonetheless got nearly completely snubbed. (Two nominations, for Makeup and Costumes.)

Although Judi Densch did get a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy". Only problem: this movie is not a musical. Therefore…

Anyway, Dame Judi plays Queen Victoria. As we begin, in 1888, there's a lot of Wretched Imperial Excess involved in celebrating her 50th year as Queen. This includes importing a small golden coinlike object from India, plus two "Hindus" to present it, with all due ostentation.

The movie turns on this oddity: one of the presenters, Abdul (who's actually a Muslim), defies royal protocol, catches the Queenly eye, and eventually works his way into Vicki's good graces. For good reason: he's charismatic, exotic, and charming. But this scandalizes the royal retinue, who are outraged at Abdul's darker complexion, but even more outraged at their relative eclipse from the Queen's favor.

The movie sent me to History vs Hollywood to find out how much liberty was taken to make a good story. A significant amount, it turns out. For one thing, Queen Vicky was probably not very close to the stalwart racial progressive portrayed here. And real-life Abdul wasn't quite as saintlike as portrayed either.

Still, not a bad try. Although she's not Oscar-nominated, Dame Judi acts the heck out of her role, and the rest of the cast is pretty good too. There's a lot of anti-imperialism boilerplate, and the fact that Abdul was a Muslim also hits some PC themes. But it's mainly a good, mostly true, story.