Judi Dench and Stephen Frears have a laugh set on the set of “Victoria & Abdul.” (Courtesy Peter Mountain/Focus Features)

Judi Dench and Stephen Frears have a laugh set on the set of “Victoria & Abdul.” (Courtesy Peter Mountain/Focus Features)

Stephen Frears takes on royalty again in ‘Victoria & Abdul’

A decade after his success with “The Queen,” twice Oscar-nominated Stephen Frears returns to royal territory with “Victoria & Abdul.”

Opening Friday, the movie focuses not on Queen Elizabeth II, but on Queen Victoria, who reigned until her death in 1901.

“Once, I found the whole thing rather uninteresting, Victoria and England. I now think she must have been an extraordinary woman,” says Frears in a recent phone conversation.

Based on real events that were successfully covered up for a century, the movie depicts Victoria’s unusual friendship with Abdul (Ali Fazal), an emissary from India.

“It seems to have woken her up. She’s half-dead when the film starts,” says Frears, describing their relationship. “It was about affection, friendship, trust. She’d write letters saying ‘hold me tight.’ Anything to get away from the boringness of her life.”

Judi Dench plays Victoria, as close to perfect as casting can get. She previously played the part in “Mrs. Brown” (1997), and she and Frears have worked together many times, most recently in “Philomena.”

Frears says he admires her because of her mischievousness and her sexiness.

When looking for her Abdul, the director went straight to India.

“I didn’t want to cast an English Indian, who was brought up in England. Someone from England couldn’t have that sense of wonder and curiosity,” he says.

Meanwhile, the great English actor and comedian Eddie Izzard appears — and is nearly unrecognizable — as Victoria’s son Bertie, who harbors nothing but hatred and jealousy for Abdul.

Though Bertie could have been a villainous character, Izzard realized that he’s more of a child, in a childish relationship with his mother.

“It was more like brother and sister than mother and son,” he says, also speaking by phone. “’You’ve got the ball! Can I play with the ball? No you can’t!’”

As for performing with Dench, Izzard calls her a pro who is in touch with her inner teenage girl. “The great thing about Judi is that she seems more like Queen Victoria than Queen Victoria does!”

Though skilled at directing, Frears considers himself a writer’s director, attracting often the most talented scribes in the business. “Victoria and Abdul” is no exception, coming from playwright and screenwriter Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”).

Why do writers trust him? “I’m told it’s because I’m brave and irreverent,” says Frears. “I put their irreverence into the film.”

IF YOU GO
Victoria & Abdul
Starring Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon
Written by Lee Hall
Directed by Stephen Frears
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour, 52 minutesAli FazalEddie IzzardJudi DenchMovies and TVStephen FrearsVictoria and Abdul

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Los Angeles Dodgers short stop Gavin Lux (9) is caught stealing by San Francisco Giants second baseman Donovan Solano (7) in the first inning of the game at Oracle Park on Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Chris Victorio | Special to The Examiner).
Giants vs. Dodgers: What you need to know before this week’s huge series

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner That grinding noise you’ll hear… Continue reading

San Francisco supervisors approved zoning changes that will allow a chain grocery store to occupy the bottom floor of the 555 Fulton St. condo building. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Trader Joe’s approved for Hayes Valley, bringing long-awaited grocery store

New Seasons Market canceled plans at 555 Fulton St. citing construction delays

Gov. Newsom wants $4.2 billion to finish the Central Valley link for the bullet train, but legislators aren’t sold. (Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters; iStock; CA High Speed Rail Authority; Shae Hammond for CalMatters)
Bullet train budget battle: Should California spend more on urban transit, not high-speed rail?

By Marissa Garcia CalMatters High-speed rail was supposed to connect California’s urban… Continue reading

Cooks work in the kitchen at The Vault Garden. (Courtesy Hardy Wilson)
Help wanted: SF restaurants are struggling to staff up

Some small businesses have to ‘sweeten the pot’ when hiring workers

Most Read