“Victoria and Abdul”

Judi Dench is Queen of England, Empress of India, and an actress who can make the most ardent Anglophobe feel compassion for the lot of a lonesome monarch. After watching the PBS mini-series “Victoria” (2017) and seeing the girl-queen circa 1837, it is interesting to see her fifty years later making a confidant out of a tall and  handsome youth from Agra, India. 1887 has her nine children later and prone to nod-off and snore even during celebratory events. Abdul ‘s attention gives her back that spark of life. In truth, no one can put that lustful pronunciation of ” my munshi ” quite like Dench. Film director Stephen Frears shows her Golden Jubilee as a comedy of manners.

Strong-willed, her husband dead at forty-two, Victoria sat sixty-three years on the throne. Author Shrabani Basu while writing a book on curry knew of the Queen’s penchant for the Indian dish. Basu mulled through millions of words in Victoria’s extant diaries and wondered about a formal portrait of a young Indian man painted as an aristocrat. ” Victoria and Abdul” was born. Screenwriter Lee Hall uses Basu’s research and book to show us the prejudices of the court and the mind-romancing of the queen for the handsome Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal ).

Episode after episode, we hear of rules: do not look at the queen, stand till the end of the meal, process together backward. The churlish queen is portrayed as tired of it all. The Hindi chide about the royal pudding being made with cow bone: the English regarded as barbaric eaters. The class divide is the divide. It is only as her teacher, or “munshi”, that we understand the thirteen-year relationship where Abdul instructs Victoria in Urdu and on the poetry of Rumi. He becomes a platonic  Mr. Brown.

Their relationship is portrayed as endearing while troublesome for the heirs and Prime Minister. The Queen appoints Abdul as her personal guide to India. The Taj Mahal and the mango is juxtaposed against wet and windy Scotland and its whiskey. Aristocrats toadying for position and even her own children can not compete with Abdul’s charm and world view: we are here for the aid of others.

There is much give and take. The Queen presents Abdul with a locket enclosing her portrait. She whispers, ” Keep me safe”. She introduces him to Puccini and to Florence.  Viewers see the one villain in Bertie, her eldest son. He has Abdul’s home ransacked for any embarrassing memorabilia. Abdul’s wife manages to save the locket from the flames. Bertie considers having his mother certified as insane. Before the Queen’s death scene, she tells Abdul that it is time he return to India. ” The vultures are circling. How can I protect you?!” Melodramatic and fanciful, yes.

Her name defined the Victorian Age, and now we have another name to add: Abdul Karim, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. Yes, he may have been currying favor and beating the sycophants at their own game; but in this film, he brought joy to a morose queen tired of jealous skullduggery and pomp.

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

On occasion when I am not particularly looking forward to a sequel,I will let a few weeks pass and let others see it first. I remember enjoying the 2012 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly and The Beautiful” all the while knowing that the film was capitalizing on my age group and beyond. The characters were well drawn and the pace was delightful in its introductions and comminglings. Friends varied in their feelings for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” 2015. Three friends raved ,two did not like it and one actually reviewed it with a theater worker’s comment, “a Marvel action film for senior citizens”. I saw it with my husband this afternoon because I had to see for myself,and it was a rainy Monday. We both felt the sequel fell short of our low expectations.

Three years is a long time to remember the circumstances of all the varied players.I can’t imagine seeing the sequel without having seen the original. I will flatly state don’t try it. You are immediately thrown into a California scene where Maggie Smith and Dev Patel are in a convertible driving down Route 66. They magically end up in San Diego, not in L.A. The fast-talking Sonny (Dev Patel) is seeking financing for his second hotel. We guess that Muriel Donlevy (Maggie Smith) is brought along for her “economy of expression”. We later learn her part in the second enterprise is more critically important.

After suffering through some weak lines about weak tea,we are back in India at the local ex-pat. club learning that the boarders all have part-time jobs be it watering down the wine,guiding tours badly,or buying pashminas and fabric for a retail company. The hotel is home of the “happy hunters”, many looking for sex and companionship. Madge(Celia Imrie)has one of the worst lines. On seeing Guy Chambers (Richard Gere)register, she yelps “Lordy,Lordy, have mercy on my ovaries”.

Other banalities ensue. “It takes teamwork to make a dream work” and “We can still shake it,you know”. “Good things don’t come on their own,one must make them.” “Water doesn’t flow until you turn on the tap” and “No one is checking out until the ultimate ‘check-out'” are bromides less than wise.Snarky comments like,”what a busy little pensioner bee” and questions like,”When was your last check-up?” are the funniest.

There are too many mini-vignettes to enumerate besides a major engagement party and a wedding. Instead of the end of things and the beginning of things, we see a continuation of the same misunderstandings and befuddlements. Should we have more respect for our elders? Well, if they deserve it. Too many of this lot are still into scheming,bartering,cheating and insinuating. Don’t expect much wisdom here. These guys are still trying to figure life out, but for one exception. The wisest,Muriel, (Maggie Smith) gets the voice overs and the right to call Sonny a self-pitying mess-up.

I loved the dancing and the Indian music and ambiance. Tina Desai was beautiful as Sunaina,the bride. I hated the “novelist” hoax with the weakest lines I have ever heard Richard Gere deliver.Dev Patel reminded my husband and me of Ray Romano in his goofiness. I missed Tom Wilkerson and thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench mis-matched. Whether the “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is “franchised or foot-noted” better not be up to me for director John Madden’s sake.