Victoria & Abdul
Brit Biopic Chronicles Unlikely Friendship Forged between Queen Mum and Muslim Manservant
In 1887, 24-year-old Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) moved from India to England where he found work as a waiter at Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) Golden Jubilee. Soon after starting at Windsor Castle, he caught the eye of the lonely monarch.
In fact, she was so taken with her Muslim manservant that she made him her constant companion and promoted him to “munshi,” Urdu for teacher. Not surprisingly, this development didn’t sit well with the royal court, especially her son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard). The heir apparent was not only suspicious of the exotic interloper’s intentions, but concerned about the optics of his widowed mum always having a strapping young Muslim at her side.
However, Victoria brushed aside any objections as racial prejudice, and kept Abdul as her trusted confidant until she passed away in 1901. Based on Shrabani Basu’s best-seller of the same, Victoria & Abdul chronicles the unlikely friendship forged between her majesty and a doting, devoted subject. Directed by two-time, Oscar-nominee Stephen Frears (for The Queen and The Grifters), this “mostly true tale” revisits the relationship as a dramedy whose comedic elements work far better than its dramatic ones.
Dame Judi Dench, who won an Academy Award for playing Queen Elizabeth, is again at her best, here as an imperious, if vulnerable, Queen Mum. She basically plays an empathetic visionary adrift in a sea of intolerance swarming with British bigots too blinded by hate to begin to appreciate a mild-mannered foreigner with strange customs.
The picture’s transparent message about brotherhood is delivered in too heavy-handed a fashion to take seriously. Nevertheless, the movie’s lighter moments generate just enough laughs to make the movie worth the investment.
A syrupy sweet reminiscence of an enduring, platonic fellowship forged across generational, color, class, cultural and religious lines.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature themes
In English, Hindi and Urdu with subtitles
Running time: 111 minutes
Production Studio: BBC Films / Working Title Films / Perfect World Pictures
Courtroom Drama Recounts High-Profile Case Argued By Thurgood Marshall Proxy
Prior to becoming America’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) enjoyed a legendary legal career as a civil rights lawyer. While serving as chief counsel for the NAACP, he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court 32 times, most notably, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, ending segregation in public schools.
This makes one question director Reggie Hudlin’s (House Party) thinking in having his biopic about the beloved icon revolve around a criminal trial from 1941, when he was still establishing himself. What’s even more curious is that Marshall wasn’t allowed to interrogate witnesses or even speak in the courtroom by the racist judge (James Cromwell) presiding over the proceedings, because he wasn’t a member of the bar in the state of Connecticut.
So, instead of seeing Marshall work his magic, we have to settle for watching him quietly orchestrate his strategy with help of a Caucasian colleague (Josh Gad) who’s rather reluctant to get involved. That would be Sam Friedman, a local yokel afraid of jeopardizing his flourishing insurance practice by defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.
After all, the case was splashed across the tabloids, and the accused had already been convicted in the court of public opinion. The basic facts were as follows. On December 11, 1940, a Greenwich socialite named Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) was either raped or had consensual sex four times with her chauffeur, Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), while her husband (Jeremy Bobb) was out of town.
Because she was wealthy, white and well connected, the police and the prosecutors believed her story, and promptly arrested the employee. But because her account of what transpired had some Swiss cheese-size holes in it, the NAACP decided to assign the case to its only attorney, the peripatetic Thurgood Marshall.
Granted, Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get on Up, delivers another impressive impersonation as Marshall, at least when he’s not muzzled. But it’s hard to get very enthusiastic when the passionate protagonist is rendered mute at critical moments while a wimpy proxy whose heart isn’t into it does all the talking.
Thurgood at 32, but once removed, as channeled by a nerdy mercenary.
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, ethnic slurs, violence and mature themes
Running time: 118 minutes
Production Studio: Starlight Media / Chestnut Ridge Productions
Distributor: Open Road Films
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening October 20, 2017
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Geostorm (PG-13 for action, violence and scenes of mass destruction) Apocalyptic thriller chronicling the catastrophic climate change, which ensues in the wake of a man-made effort to engineer the weather via satellites in response to global warming. Ensemble cast features Gerard Butler, Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish, Andy Garcia, Mare Winningham and Jeremy Ray Taylor.
Only The Brave (PG-13 for mature themes, profanity, sexual references and drug use) Bittersweet profile of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the elite team of fire jumpers that lost 19 members in an Arizona wildfire in June of 2013. Co-starring Jennifer Connelly, Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges and Andie MacDowell.
Same Kind Of Different As Me (PG-13 for mature themes, violence and profanity) Adaptation of the best-selling memoir of the same name about an international art dealer (Greg Kinnear) who enlists the assistance of a homeless black man (Djimon Hounsou) for help in saving his troubled marriage. With Renee Zellweger, Jon Voight and Olivia Holt.
The Snowman (R for violence, profanity, sexuality, brief nudity and grisly images) Suspense, thriller about a veteran detective’s (Michael Fassbender) hunt for a serial killer at the beginning of winter, with the help of a new recruit (Rebecca Ferguson) to the police force. Featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Chloe Sevigny and Val Kilmer.
Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (PG-13 for profanity, scary images, sexual references and drug use) Tyler Perry’s back in drag as a sassy granny for another round of Halloween hijinks at a campground haunted by ghosts and goblins. Supporting cast includes Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Lexy Panterra and Diamond White.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Aida’s Secrets (Unrated) Inspirational documentary about the reunion in Canada of a Holocaust survivor raised as an orphan in Israel, with his mother and brother 70 years after they were separated at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. (In English and Hebrew with subtitles)
The Bachelors (Unrated) Romantic comedy about a widower (J.K. Simmons) and son (Josh Wiggins) who both find love after moving across country for a fresh start in the wake of their wife/mother’s untimely death. With Julie Delpy, Jae Head, Harold Perrineau, Odeya Rush and Kevin Dunn.
Dealt (Unrated) Sleight of hand biopic about card shark Richard Turner, a world-renowned magician who happens to be completely blind.
Jane (Unrated) Prestige biopic about primatologist, Jane Goodall, featuring a treasure trove of unseen footage shot in the wild by her cameraman/husband, Hugo van Lawick.
Never Here (R for profanity and sexuality) Suspense thriller about a shutterbug (Mireille Eros) who photographs strangers until some disturbing events indicate that someone’s watching her. With Gotran Visnjic, Vincent Piazza and the late Sam Shepard.
The Work (Unrated) Rehabilitation documentary examining the criminal justice system from the perspectives of three Folsom prison inmates participating in a four-day group therapy session.