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Victoria and Abdul

Judi Dench has made a habit of playing royalty. Perhaps her regal presence elevates her above other actors who are unable to convey the weary majesty royalty brings. Having portrayed Queen Victoria before in ‘Mrs Brown’, Dench created a path others have tried to match. She returns to the role again in ‘Victoria and Abdul’. Almost a sequel/remake of ‘Mrs Brown’, it gives Dench another opportunity to command all comers from her royally encrusted throne.

Nearing the end of her reign as British Queen, Victoria (Judi Dench) craves decent company. Still mourning her husband’s passing, she longs for something more apart from regular courtiers and hangers-on. She finds this with her Indian servant Abdul (Ali Fazal). Striking up a genuine friendship, they explore the path each has taken that has led to their meeting. Along the way they encounter the usual problems of royalty and prestige testing their union.

From her first appearance it is clear ‘Victoria and Abdul’ belongs to Judi Dench. Without her, the movie would have had little value. Whenever she appears the story catches fire as her character grapples with the mundanity of royal life. How she attempts to put spark in her dwindling years is well realised in her relationship with Abdul. His stoic determination to teach her new life lessons and stand up to stuffy traditions makes ‘Victoria and Abdul’ worth watching.

As wonderful as Dench and the cast are, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ generally feels very formulaic. Director Stephen Frears fails to inject much passion or flair to make the predictable script different from others. The emotional beats feel forced, as if they’re needed to add spice to a lukewarm story. The historical details and production design is fascinating, just what’s within them isn’t very involving. The screenplay has a manipulative air about it with the flow from point A to B seemingly contrived to bring out the requisite audience responses.

Whilst the performances are excellent with a reasonably engaging story, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ fails to linger in the memory. There are many similar movies who have told this type of tale better. More of a bronze than silver-plated success, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ is at least interesting enough not to be sent to the proverbial cinematic tower.

Rating out of 10: 6

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Chemistry is an important part of a film’s success. If the leads fail to gel as a believable team, a movie can quickly sink. Whether it is romance, drama, comedy or action, chemistry plays a huge role in driving the story along which ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ highlights. With the ever breezy Ryan Reynolds and the consistently bad-ass Samuel L Jackson as leads, ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ already has much going for it. It needs to as their presence enlivens a very predictable screenplay with a plot failing to match their spirited performances.

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is an in-demand bodyguard whose skills are second to none. After a case goes horribly wrong, his reputation is in tatters. When enlisted to protect notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson), Bryce enthusiastically accepts. Seizing the chance to salvage his ruined career, Bryce gradually learns why Kincaid needs protection. Having information that could put evil dictator Vladislav (Gary Oldman) in jail for life, Kincaid is a wanted man. When Vladislav sends an army of killers on their trail, Bryce and Kincaid form a reluctant partnership in order to survive.

A word that could describe ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is ‘bland’. Whilst Jackson and Reynolds deliver rousing performances and the action is incredible, the script is banal. Those who haven’t seen an action movie in the last decade may be surprised by its revelations, although others may get a sense of déjà vu. Director Patrick Hughes tries hard putting flair into the by the numbers screenplay, but even his enthusiasm can’t hide the overlong film’s general ho-hum nature.

‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ thrives on its action scenes. They are incredibly realised and use the foreign locales well. The stunt-work gone into creating these sequences is amazing with the performers giving them their all. The banter between Jackson and Reynolds is great even if tonally the film is all over the place. The minor exploration of the nature of good and evil gives things vague depth but generally the plot gives way to the action which is its main asset.

Having genuinely funny moments and plenty of colourful pizazz, ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is silly hokum. It isn’t that memorable and could have benefited with copious editing. For a ‘no-brain’ action comedy, it achieves its target and is dopey fun if you like no-frills thrills.

Rating out of 10: 6