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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Frears’

Judi Dench, Ali Fazal

“VICTORIA AND ABDUL”  My rating: B-  

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Dame Judi Dench — who won an Academy Award for portraying one British monarch (Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love”) and was nominated for playing another (Victoria in “Mrs. Brown”) — now goes for the trifecta with “Victoria and Abdul.”

Stephen Frear’s comic costume drama finds Dench once again in the glum mourning clothes of Queen Victoria, this time late in the monarch’s reign.

As you’d expect, this great actress eats up the screen, in the process compensating for a screenplay that isn’t exactly sure what it wants  to say.

This Victoria remains the isolated, lonely widow who in “Mrs. Brown” found companionship (and perhaps chaste romance) with her Scottish gamekeeper.  But now, several years down the road, she’s  getting a bit dotty. Dozing off at state dinners is  standard operating procedure. And she’s a voraciously fast diner, posing a problem for others who are expected to stop chewing when she does.

Victoria’s advisers and hangers on (played by a Who’s Who of Brit thesps like Michael Gambon, Tim Piggot-Smith and Olivia Williams)  are running the show in her intellectual absence. The  Queen’s influence is  limited to picking menus.

Based on a little-known historical incident,“Victoria and Abdul” centers on the arrival in court of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), one of the Queen’s Indian subjects who prior to this has been a humble clerk in a prison.

Abdul is tapped to represent India at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee not because of his standing but because of his, er, standing — he’s a lanky fellow and clueless British officials reason that a tall man will look better presenting Her Majesty with a rare and precious gold coin from the subcontinent.

What nobody counts on is that the old gal will look into Abdul’s Omar-Sharif eyes and strike up a remarkable friendship, one that revitalizes Victoria’s mental faculties, sharpens her interest in affairs of state and threatens the status quo of the royal household.

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Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant

Simon Helberg, Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant

“FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS”   My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Aug. 12)

 110 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

The human capacity for self-delusion has long been fodder for dramatists. Usually it’s the stuff of satire or tragedy.

“Florence Foster Jenkins,” though, has it both ways.

Written by Nicholas Martin (his first feature after a long career in Brit TV), directed by Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Philomena,” “The Queen” ) and starring Meryl Streep in a prime slice of Oscar bait, this real-life yarn encourages us to laugh uproariously at the human foibles on display but sends us away in a somber mood.

It’s the rare film that discovers dignity in foolishness.

The title character was a real person, a New York heiress (1868-1944) who became famous — or infamous — for her out-of-tune renditions of operatic arias.

Frears’ film unfolds in the last year of Jenkins’ life. Our guide to Florence’s oddball world is Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg), a scrawny, struggling pianist who as the film begins is hired as Florence’s accompanist and discovers to his horror that he’s backing one of the century’s worst voices.

What’s more, he’s now immersed in Florence’s bizarre household.

Streep’s Florence has more money than good sense. A lover of classical music, she has devoted much of her fortune to private recitals at which she is the main attraction.

A zaftig dowager (Streep wears a convincing fat suit) with alarming taste in fashion and the stage presence of an eager child, Florence honestly believes that she has a great voice.

This delusion is encouraged by the blue-haired biddies who are her devoted fans and by her common-law husband and manager, St. Clair Bayfield (an excellent Hugh Grant).

Bayfield is a failed Shakespearean actor — one of those hammy thesps whose delivery is all about the words but rarely about their meaning — who for three decades has been sponging off the Jenkins fortune.

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