Certificate: PG

Running Time: 112 mins

Star Rating: 4/5

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TWENTY years ago, Judi Dench beautifully captured the aching loneliness and dignity of Queen Victoria in John Madden's biographical drama, Mrs Brown. Now she effortlessly slips back into regal garb for Stephen Frears' heart-warming drama torn from a long-lost page in history. "Based on real events... mostly" declares an opening title, raising the curtain on a comfortingly warm and cosy script by Lee Hall, who has adapted the book of the same title by Shrabani Basu. Set during the final five years of Victoria's turbulent reign, Frears' picture touches upon some of the same themes as Dench's earlier portrayal of the grief-stricken monarch, albeit with more humour.

The year is 1887 and Queen Victoria (Dench) is 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. They travel to Windsor Castle and Abdul catches Victoria's eye. He is rapidly promoted to the monarch's spiritual advisor and a relationship of mutual appreciation blossoms, to the consternation of her son Bertie (Eddie Izzard).

Victoria & Abdul is bittersweet and irresistibly charming. Serious discourse about the impact of the British empire in late 19th Century India is conveniently swept under the palaces' Persian rugs. Twinkly-eyed Dench is flawless, capturing the isolation and despair of her overweight, cantankerous ruler as well as her steely resolve when her son threatens to seize the throne by having her declared insane. Screen chemistry with Bollywood hunk Fazal is delightful and the great and the good of the British acting establishment inhabit supporting roles with plummy aplomb.