Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) is selected as one of two Indians to present Queen Victoria (Dame Judi Dench, 007 Series) with a ceremonial coin at the Golden Jubilee celebration in her honor. He is basically selected for his height, but the other Indian, Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), is a last-minute stand-in and is quite short. The pair travel to England and when the coin is presented, handsome Abdul makes quite an impression on Victoria and she asks that the two stay on for the duration of the Jubilee as her personal footmen.
Before long, Abdul's unusual and refreshing behavior has the Queen smitten and they begin a friendship that is based on intellect, learning, and mutual admiration. Victoria learns that Abdul is Muslim and she asks his assistance in learning the Hindi and Urdu languages, as she is the Empress of India and wants to embrace that role. Her staff is in an uproar over the insertion of a lowly Indian into the household staff, and only becomes more agitated as she seeks to elevate his station, taking him on as her "Munshi," or teacher. Her eldest son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), who would eventually take her place on the throne, is especially incensed as the pair seem to develop a mother/son relationship and besides, Victoria isn't too fond of selfish Bertie.
Before long, it is clear that Victoria's health and overall demeanor have improved since Abdul has become her constant companion and she grows tired of the naysayers who would seek to remove him from her presence, including her personal physician, Dr. Reid (Paul Higgins, Line of Duty); the man who runs the royal household, Sir Timothy Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith); and royal regulars Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter) and Lady Churchill (Olivia Williams, Dollhouse). When Victoria brings Abdul's wife and mother-in-law to live with him on the royal grounds and seeks to knight Abdul to protect him from those who would seek to remove him, Bertie and Dr. Reid take drastic action against Victoria, showing just how truly reprehensible they really are.
Watching the deeply loving friendship that develops between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim is a beautiful thing. It is clear that Dench and Fazal had tremendous chemistry, not unlike the actual relationship they are portraying and the pair basically say as much in the featurette called Judi & Ali. Victoria & Abdul is a tender and sweet film about an actual relationship that existed between the Queen and a man deemed to be far below her station and intellect to be her friend, and although her son and his cronies attempted to erase all evidence of the pair's dear friendship, Karim's journals provide a history of the lovely bond between the two. Victoria & Abdul is a delight. Dench and Fazal are magical together, and the rest of the cast play their parts perfectly as well, meaning, you'll hate most of them. There are some bittersweet parts to the film and some tearjerker moments as well, but overall, it is a testament to the tenacity, intelligence, and humanity of Queen Victoria and the lasting friendship that endured until her death. Highly recommended.