Little inspires in this rather bland biopic featuring notably underwhelming performances from its star-studded castUNIVERSAL PICTURES

An elderly couple, on departing from the auditorium following our screening of Victoria & Abdul, commented that it had been "worth going to see". I am so very glad that they enjoyed the film enough for this faint praise to have been merited. I, alas, would suggest that this decidedly pedestrian picture represents a poor return on the price of a cinema ticket.

"We are presented with Queen Victoria warbling Gilbert and Sullivan and encountering an overripe mango"

For much of its duration, this supposed period drama elects to play itself as a comedy, with at least a joke a minute. Ninety-five per cent of these jokes, however, are not funny, being either devoid of sufficient wit, or poorly delivered, or, in the case of much of the backstairs harrumphing, both.

The failed attempt at comedy is a pity on two counts, firstly because it is a failure, and secondly because the story being told by the film is of potentially fierce potency. A scene at the conclusion, in which a fire lit by Edward VII in order to destroy all evidence of his existence burns in Abdul’s eyes, was the only one in the film which had any significant emotional impact.

The true tale of an Indian Muslim embraced by the figurehead of Britain’s imperialist project could have provoked deep thoughts, and provided rich intrigue and desperate tragedy if played straight. Instead, we are presented with Queen Victoria warbling Gilbert and Sullivan and encountering an overripe mango as if such shenanigans were the film’s central focus.

Judi Dench was surprisingly underwhelming as the Empress of India, never entirely convincing as an historical figure, while in smaller parts Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar and Michael Gambon demonstrated little of the comic timing they must surely possess. Thomas Newman’s score was a fine one, but seldom did it have much of significance to accompany.

We were amused, slightly, by a jelly and a stethoscope, but how much better it would have been had we been amused a lot, or better still, inspired

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