Victoria and Abdul

This movie is based on the true story of Queen Victoria and her Indian servant named Abdul Karim. Queen Victoria is played by Judi Dench and Abdul by Ali Fazal. The movie is about the Queen and Abdul’s friendship, a friendship that developed despite the misgivings—and loud protestations—of the Queen’s family and the royal court. One thing I liked is that the movie depicts Queen Victoria as an earthy human being, ordinarily not what one was assumes of a Royal family member. The Queen likes to eat heartily, falls asleep at the dinner table and is outspoken in her manner. It is at a dinner when she first meets Abdul, who was brought to the Royal court to present the Queen with a mohur, a token of appreciation for Britain’s rule over India.

Abdul is not versed in Royal protocol and he makes eye contact with the Queen at their first meeting. This is a nono. From my perspective, I think Victoria’s interest in Abdul is that he was so different from the people who surrounded her at the time. A friendship is born, and for both sides there is much to learn and appreciate about the other’s culture. Abdul teaches the Queen the Qur’an and Urdu and she delights in this new knowledge. Indeed, she is so taken with Abdul, that she decorates a room in Osborne House in a style heavily influenced by Indian culture. Of course, there is outrage from the Royal Court. At one point, her son Bertie (Edward VII) tries quite forcefully to have her send Abdul back to India or he will have her declared insane. It is this scene and the Queen’s very firm response that shows her true mettle. She is a strong lady and, needless to say, Bertie is not successful.

Until I saw this movie, I had no idea of this friendship. The movie ends with the inevitable conclusion: the Queen dies, and Abdul is dispatched from England. The movie’s final credits finish the story; after Abdul’s death, his papers detailing that time in his life were discovered. It’s a fascinating movie, with fine performances, told in a light, comedic tone; however, the prejudices of the day permeate the movie. Even if you view it just from a historical perspective, it is well worth seeing.

About Erika: I have always been a movie fan; indeed, it’s a passion I have had for many decades. For me, watching a movie is a means of transporting oneself into the world you see on the screen. I was delighted therefore, when Janice asked me to submit reviews for our newsletter. My hope is that by reading my reviews, you also will develop a passion for this medium.

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