Victoria's Real Secret 

Dame Judi Dench returns to the throne as the enigmatic British queen in Victoria and Abdul

(Left) Judi Dench and Ali Fazal portray Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim in Victoria and Abdul. (Right) This rare photo of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim is one of the few remaining items documenting their relationship.

Focus Features

(Left) Judi Dench and Ali Fazal portray Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim in Victoria and Abdul. (Right) This rare photo of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim is one of the few remaining items documenting their relationship.

I'm one of the fortunate people on this planet who have locked eyes with Dame Judi Dench—though, to be honest, we've only spoken a grand total of about two minutes during the past 12 years. The three times I've encountered Dench have all been at the Toronto International Film Festival: in 2005 at a red carpet premiere of Mrs. Henderson Presents, in 2013 at the world premiere of Philomena and last month at the North American premiere of Victoria and Abdul at TIFF 2017. Dench was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for the first two, but regarding her chances for another nomination, don't ask her about it ... ever.

I learned that the hard way in 2005. I asked Dench what she thought her chances were and when our eyes locked, her steely glare made it clear she was having none of it. A few weeks ago, when I heard a journalist working the Victoria and Abdul premiere ask Dench the dreaded Oscar question, I knew what was coming. She was polite but terse, and then she moved on—literally and figuratively.

"Oh, let's not get into that," she said, turning her head toward the next reporter, who happened to be me. This year, I knew better than to ask Dench—who has an Oscar, a Tony, two Golden Globes, six BAFTA and two SAG awards—anything about such nonsense.

"Ms. Dench, could you speak to your working relationship with [the director of Victoria and Abdul] Stephen Frears?" I asked, knowing it was a powderpuff question, if there ever was one.

The flint in Dench's eyes dissolved to twinkles, and she was delighted to oblige.

"Well, Stephen has wonderfully good taste, doesn't he?" she said, smiling. "Have you seen our movie yet?"

I had attended a press screening of Victoria and Abdul the previous day, yet tripped over my words as I attempted to tell Dench how much I enjoyed her performance.

"Yes, I think it's lovely. It's good to see you," she said and moved on to suffer yet another fool.

In my daydreams, I imagine Dench said, "It's good to see you again, George." Alas, no. Our brief encounter was just that.

To be sure, Dench is multifaceted on screen. She can play tough as nails (Lady Macbeth or James Bond's boss, M), soft as silk (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) or royalty as if it's a birthright. It was when she portrayed Queen Victoria in the 1997 film Mrs. Brown that Dench received her first of seven Academy Award nominations. A year later, she took home the Oscar for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Now she returns to the role of Queen Victoria, the longest reigning monarch in British history. Much has been chronicled about Victoria, like how she wore black for nearly 40 years mourning the passing of her husband Albert, and that she survived at least seven assassination attempts. But little has been written of the extraordinary relationship between the 68-year-old Victoria and a 24-year-old Indian clerk (Ali Fazal), who was chosen to travel from India to England to present her Highness with a special Golden Jubilee coin. Victoria's attraction to the quite- married clerk was the subject of an inner-palace scandal, yet it never stopped the unlikely pair from becoming incredibly close.

Victoria and Abdul opens with the words, "Based on real events... mostly." That's because most of the correspondence, and any official records of Victoria and Abdul's relationship, were destroyed at the time of her death on the orders of her son Bertie (played by Eddie Izzard) upon his ascension to the throne as King Edward VII.

Victoria and Abdul couldn't be timelier, with its overt themes of passion and intelligence pushing back against ignorance and prejudice and unless my guess is wrong, her portrayal of Queen Victoria should secure Dench her eighth Oscar nomination. But a word of caution: Don't ask her about it. You wouldn't want to upset the grand Dame.

Pin It

Now Playing

Victoria & Abdul is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Victoria & Abdul
Rated PG-13 · 110 minutes · 2017
Official Site:
Director: Stephen Frears
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward, Lee Hall, Amelia Granger, Liza Chasin, Christine Langan and Joe Oppenheimer
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams, Eddie Izzard, Simon Callow, Tim Pigott-Smith, Adeel Akhtar, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Wadham, Deano Bugatti, Robin Soans and Ruth McCabe

What others are saying

  • Comments

    Comments are closed.

    Trending in the Alternative Press

    © 2019 Boise Weekly

    Website powered by Foundation