Director: Stephen Frears
Based on journalist Shrabani Basu’s book: Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant,
Screenplay by: Lee Hall
Casting Directors, Leo Davis & Lissy Holm. Casting Director – India, Nandini Shrikent. Music by Thomas Newman. Make-up and Hair Designer, Daniel Phillips. Costume Designer, Consolata Boyle. Production Designer, Alan Macdonald. Editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, ACE. Director of Photography, Danny Cohen, BSC.
Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward.
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Tim Pigott-Smith, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Paul Higgins, Robin Soans, Julian Wadham, Simon Callow and Michael Gambon.
In 1887, Abdul travels from India to present a ceremonial medal as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
As the title suggests, Victoria & Abdul is a film based on the (mostly) true events of a previously unheard of close friendship between Queen Victoria and a Muslim Indian, Abdul Karim.
The film opens on a caricature portrait of the queen: an elderly, overweight woman, bored and cantankerous as she attends seemingly endless engagements to celebrate her 50 years on the throne. Until a tall, handsome ‘Hindu’ catches her eye.
Aside from the difference in age and race, Queen Victoria blossoms under the attention of this most attractive, warm-hearted man. And you can see the romantic overtures of the relationship as the elderly monarch falls in love with Abdul’s (Ali Fazal) bright eyes and unique perspective of the world.
Although not a physical relationship, Abdul becomes her close confident and Munshi, a spiritual advisor and teacher – completely unheard of in 17th century England.
She persists in keeping Abdul by her side against the pressure and ultimate rebellion of her Court and family, demanding she stop keeping the Indian man’s company, let alone promote him.
And it’s fascinating to watch the iron will of the Queen as she insists – because, after all, isn’t she the Empress of India?
In 2001, journalist Shrabani Basu, while researching the origins of curry, discovered not only Queen Victoria’s love of curries but also a portrait and bronze bust made of an Indian gentleman. After further investigation, 13 volumes of Queen Victoria’s diaries were found, previously unread because they were written in Urdu (a Persianised and standardised register language of the Hindustani language).
The book has been adapted for the screen by writer, Lee Hall (who also wrote the beloved, Billy Elliot (2000)), changing the journalistic style of the book into a drama more suited to a wider audience.
The setting and costuming were carefully crafted, showing the extravagance of royalty while also showing the silliness of ceremony.
Victoria and Abdul is a period drama, which isn’t really my cup-of-tea, but there’s true brilliance in casting Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria (again) – Dench depicting the Queen’s grit beautifully with guidance from director, Stephen Frears (both Frears and Dench having experience portraying Queen Victoria with Frears directing The Queen back in 2006 and Dench cast as Queen Victoria in, Mrs Brown (1997)).
Victoria & Abdul gives a glimpse into the personality of the woman, her iron will and the simplicity of her nature; the drawing reflected so well in Abdul’s eyes.
It was like watching an elderly, sick woman come to life.
And inspiring to see one so sure of her wants and needs against all other opinions, even those of her son.
Fan’s of Judi Dench you will enjoy seeing her play the borderline dirty old woman cradle snatching a younger man (Abdul, 24 when he first arrived in England and the Queen, in her 80s), and to admire her strength of character while surrounded by pompous idiots.
So, an enjoyable watch with highlights of humour and emotional undertones – a chance to look behind the curtain of English Royalty, to glimpse a remarkable woman who, against all odds and so late in life, found love and friendship in the most unlikely person, her Munshi, Abdul.