Judi Dench talks playing a queen again in 'Victoria,' inquires, 'What is the Rock?'

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 the 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,” she said. “I hope it will match up to the person that I played in Mrs. Brown.”

Victoria & Abdul (in select theaters Sept. 22) fasts forward roughly 15 years from her last performance, finding the queen widowed, obese and in her final chapter of life. Festooned nightly 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 the death of John Brown,” her beloved Scottish aide, whose death in 1883, 22 years after that of her husband, Prince Albert,  is said to have shocked the queen, says Dench. “It was a blessed relief that suddenly she was able to find somebody (like Abdul).”

A friendship blossoms, with the mysterious 24-year-old man becoming the queen’s high-ranking “teacher,” instructing the monarch on the Quran and how to write and speak Urdu.

Directed by Stephen Frears, the filmis based on a true story based on letters journals and diaries between the pair that surfaced in journalist Shrabani Basu’s 2010 book, Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidante.

In real life, Queen Victoria built Abdul his own house, created a room in her residence dedicated to Indian treasures and brought his family to the U.K. But what were Abdul’s intentions? It’s unclear as his character in Victoria & Abdul begins to impose his worldview on the queen.

“You think he’s young, he’s naïve. He could have just been playing the fool,” says Fazal, who studied the queen and Karim’s Urdu letters, says Fazal, adding that this was also a man  “who was just sitting down and unconditionally teaching her Urdu. And of course, in those sessions, they would talk about so many other things. He was an opportunist, why not? That’s fine. So many of us are (do the same) now.”

Equally delicious is Dench’s sensationally sloppy bedside manner: At dinner the queen loudly slurps her soup, chews her entrees open-mouthed and snores between courses.

“She didn’t have much etiquette,” says Dench. “I had a lovely time. I ate a great deal. I ate 11 boiled eggs in one scene.”

The Rock probably does that every morning, this journalist imagined.

“What is ‘The Rock’?” asked Dench.

Fazal widened his eyes. “Judi, he’s like the biggest, biggest star! He’s badass.”

“He’s badass?” asked Dench, turning over her wrist to show off the inked words ‘Carpe diem.’ “That’s what somebody said to me when I had my tattoo done.” At 80.

 

usatoday.com