Victoria & Abdul
Focus Features – 9/22
Dir: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams
What It’s About: The extraordinary true story of an unexpected friendship in the later years of Queen Victoria’s remarkable rule. When Abdul Karim, a young clerk, travels from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favor with the Queen herself. As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to destroy. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity. – official Focus Features synopsis
Pros: Oscar winner Judi Dench returns once again to play the Queen of England, which has served her very well in the past. She earned her first Oscar nomination playing Queen Victoria for John Madden (Mrs. Brown) in 1997 and then the very next year played Queen Elizabeth, again for Madden, in Shakespeare in Love and won the Supporting Actress Oscar. With Victoria and Abdul, Dench returns to play Queen Victoria and once again pairs with director Stephen Frears, who has helmed the films that led to three of her seven Oscar nominations. This is Focus Features’ main Best Actress play so their attention go primarily to Dench.
Cons: The trailer is cute and punctuated with ripe humor and stalwart strength, both Dench wheelhouses of her Queen performances. For some it will be comfortable, for others perhaps too familiar. Then again, it never hurts Meryl Streep. Focus Features has a pretty heavy slate this year and they’re not great at balancing multiple campaigns; they’re best when they have a single, well, focus (i.e. Brokeback Mountain, Dallas Buyers Club, The Theory of Everything).
The Bottom Line: This is probably a sure-fire 8th nomination for Judi Dench. Outside of that I don’t see much. A longshot for Ali Fazal in Supporting Actor maybe. Costume Design (from two-time Oscar nominee Consolata Boyle) is possible but could be overshadowed by some bigger period films, including Dench’s other fall movie Murder on the Orient Express. How wild would it be though for Dench to return to the character who earned her that first nomination and pull of a win? Were she too succeed she would become the oldest Best Actress winner in Oscar history, surpassing Jessica Tandy by three years.