Queen! Bow Down to Tattoo-Flashing Octogenarian Dame Dench

This dame, as it turns out, is full of mischief.

Ms. Dench got an Oscar nomination 20 years ago for playing Victoria in “Mrs. Brown,” the saga of how the queen grew close to a younger man, a servant who doted on her after her beloved Albert died, outraging her household.

Now she is back in Oscar contention for “Victoria & Abdul,” the saga of how the queen grew close to another younger man, also a servant who doted on her after the other one died, again outraging her household.

The first of the forbidden relationships was with John Brown, a tall, rugged Scotsman nicknamed “the Queen’s stallion,” seven years her junior. As Julia Baird wrote in “Victoria the Queen,” Victoria was so ensorcelled by the handsome Brown that she asked to be buried with a lock of his hair and a leather case full of his photos in her hand. His handkerchief was also placed on top of her body, alongside Albert’s.


Ali Fazal and Ms. Dench, who star in “Victoria & Abdul.”

Jimmy Fontaine for The New York Times

The second entanglement, with the added complications of race relations in the colonial age, was with Abdul Karim, a 24-year-old Indian Muslim servant who became the 68-year-old monarch’s “munshi,” or teacher, instructing her on Urdu, the Quran and mangoes.

Ms. Dench is far more padded as the older Victoria. “She was 46 inches around her waist, and she wasn’t tall,” the actress told me. “It was difficult to go to the loo. Impossible, actually.”

Both movies begin with the small, round queen — widowed after having nine children with Albert — dyspeptic and stony-faced, miserable and in mourning with her black veil, only to show her brightening and melting under the sometimes impertinent ministrations of her attractive younger servants.

Even though her name became a synonym for priggishness, I observe, Victoria was a sexy little thing, wasn’t she?

“We are not amused,” Ms. Dench says with faux hauteur, offering the line associated with Victoria. Comparing the queen to the interior of a tree (Ms. Dench loves trees), she said: “She had a huge passion and need inside her. She had a happy life with Albert and then those years with John Brown, and then I’m sure she’d certainly given up by then and was just caught up in the drudgery of everything. And suddenly, that wonderful kind of…

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