In all of the James Bond adventures in which she portrayed the role of “M,” Judi Dench was alternately cold, warm, sensual, mysterious and brilliant.

In Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” she was witty, sharp, flirtatious and eccentric — and brilliant.

In “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” she was sensual, attractive, warm-hearted and alluring. Oh yes, and brilliant.

Today, after years of honing her skills, Judi Dench arrives on our local screen in Stephen Frears’s delightful, charming comedy drama “Victoria and Abdul,” in what may be the greatest role of her career.

Behold Britain’s Queen Victoria, that tiny, portly, sentimental and wise beyond imagination monarch whose life, near the end of it, was brightened and enhanced by a simple Muslim clerk from Colonial India.

In the 1880’s Abdul Karim, (Bollywood’s matinee idol Ali Fazal) a very tall, naive and handsome government clerk was selected, because of his height, to journey to London to deliver a ceremonial medal coin to the Queen at an elaborate ceremony.

Abdul was to enter the dinner with the coin on a velvet pillow, present it to Her Majesty without making eye contact, back slowly out and vanish from history. What could possibly go wrong? Everything.

Abdul could not help but make eye contact, and neither could the Queen. And so taken by her, Abdul dropped to his knees and kissed her right foot.

When he arose, and his soft brown eyes met the Queen’s soft blue eyes, history, or so we’re told in this “almost” true saga, boiled up around both of them and gave the world a stunning, adorable and wonderful ballad of love and friendship. That was the beginning of everything.

So taken by Abdul’s sweet nature, disarming charm and bottomless grasp of Indian history, Victoria kept him on as her “Mushi” (teacher) companion and, much to the chagrin of the entire court including her grasping son “Bertie” (Eddie Izzard), made him a permanent member of the royal household.

This was a gesture comparable today to Donald Trump hiring his caddy as his chief of staff and personal secretary.

According to Lee Halls’ screenplay taken from Shrabani Basu’s book, Victoria took Abdul along on journeys to nearby Scotland and faraway Florence, Italy, and all points in between. Drifting far apart from her chilly relationships with everyone concerned, and adding shock to awe, Victoria granted him ownership of lands in India and multiple honors.

As time went on, some 15 years to be exact, she went as far as to consider bestowing on this Muslim clerk the honor of knighthood. That will be, as you might expect, the royal straw that brought the royal camel to its shaky knees.

Soon, not only all of the household, the cabinet and every one of the stiff upper lipped elite in the worldwide British Empire was stunned into Immobility.

British history tells us little of what measures were finally taken due to Edward’s scorched earth moves to wipe the entire affair from history. But years after Victoria’s death, Abdul’s lengthy diaries were found in India, and the ballad of Victoria and Abdul emerged, if not wholly intact, revealing enough to give us this wonderful, beautiful story.

It should be enough for the producers to say in selling this film that the esteemed Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria. End of sales pitch.

But there is so much more to see, so much to enjoy.

“Victoria and Abdul” is not just heartwarming but equally heart breaking, not just humorous but, at times, hilarious. It is of that great British tradition that gave us “The King’s Speech,” “The Crown” and “Remains of the Day.”

The cast, British to the core, is perfect: Tim Pigott-Smith, Michael Gambon and the great British comedian Eddie Izzard.

And there in the gorgeous gardens; the stunning dining halls; windswept, freezing Scottish Highlands; and echoing halls of Windsor. The tiny Judi Bench and imposing Ali Fazal, two perfectly matched talents, capture our hearts. Bravo.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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