Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria in this film recounting a true story of her unexpected friendship with an Indian servant.
TORONTO — Hollywood is stuffed with sequels, but few have the caliber of Victoria & Abdul, which boasts Judi Dench playing Queen Victoria 20 years after she received an Oscar nomination for the same role in Mrs. Brown.
On Monday at Toronto International Film Festival (where reviews of Dench’s performance have been rapturous), the beloved actress revealed why she was up for a second royal round.
“I consider it to be a sequel of the story we told then,” says Dench, 82. “I hope it will match up to the person that I played in Mrs. Brown.”
Victoria & Abdul (in theaters Sept. 22 in New York and Los Angeles, expands to additional cities Sept. 29 and Oct. 6) fast-forwards roughly 15 years from her last performance, finding the queen widowed, obese and in her final chapter of life. Festooned with diamonds and underwhelmed by a barrage of tony dinner guests, the queen’s boredom and resignation are palpable — until a handsome young Indian man arrives at the palace to present her with a gift.
Playful and impulsive, Abdul (played by Indian star Ali Fazal) breaks protocol, meeting the queen’s eye, smiling at her and playfully kissing her foot. As guests look on aghast, Dench’s queen giggles.
“Her life had kind of closed in” after losing John Brown, her beloved Scottish aide, Dench says. “It was a blessed relief that suddenly she was able to find somebody (like Abdul).”
A friendship blossoms, with the 24-year-old man becoming the queen’s high-ranking “teacher,” instructing the monarch on the Quran and how to write and speak Urdu.