Victoria & Abdul: Dench a class act in royal tale
National treasure Judi Dench effortlessly slips back into the regal garb of Queen Victoria for Stephen Frears' heart-warming drama torn from a long-lost page in history.
"Based on real events... mostly" declares an opening title card, raising the curtain on a comfortingly warm and cosy script by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot).
The year is 1887 and Queen Victoria is installed as Empress of India.
In Agra, two lowly men - Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) - are chosen by British authorities to present the monarch with a ceremonial gold coin called a mohur.
They travel to Windsor Castle and receive a crash course in royal etiquette from groom-in-waiting Alick Yorke (Julian Wadham).
Soon after, Abdul catches Victoria's eye and the visitor is rapidly promoted to the monarch's spiritual advisor or "munshi".
A relationship of mutual appreciation blossoms between Victoria and Abdul, to the consternation of her son and heir apparent Bertie (Eddie Izzard), as well as private secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith), personal physician Dr Reid (Paul Higgins) and Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon).
Dench is flawless, the chemistry with Bollywood hunk Fazal is delightful, and the great and the good of the British acting establishment inhabit supporting roles with plummy aplomb.