Victoria & Abdul is a British biographical comedy/drama directed by Stephen Frears and written by Lee Hall. The film is based on the book of same name by Shrabani Basu, about the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her Indian Muslim. This film starts out delightful but turns into a tragic story of hate, and bigotry which totally took me by surprise. Because I have a thing for period pieces, I was anxious to see Victoria & Abdul which was well told despite being sad.
In the year 1887, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young prison clerk from Agra, India, is instructed to travel to England for Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) Golden Jubilee to present her with a mohur, a gold coin which has been minted as a token of appreciation from British-ruled India.
The Queen, who is lonely and tired of her fawning courtiers, develops an interest in and later a friendship with Abdul. She spends time with him alone, and promotes him to become her Munshi. She asks him to teach her Urdu and the Qur’an. When Victoria discovers that he is married, she invites his wife and mother-in-law to join him in England. They arrive wearing black Burqas, to the consternation of the household.
While Victoria treats Abdul as a son, his preferment is resented by her household and inner circle, including her son Bertie, Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) who, upon her death, becomes Edward VII and the Prime Minister (Michael Gambon). The household plots to undermine their relationship, hoping that Abdul will be sent home. When Victoria embarrasses herself by recounting to the court the one-sided account of the Indian Mutiny that Abdul had told her, Victoria’s faith and trust in him are shaken and she decides he must go home. But the following day she changes her mind and asks him to stay. She gives Abdul a bejewelled locket with her photograph.
Victoria’s interest in India grows, and at her Isle of Wight home of Osborne House, she has the Durbar Room built for state functions, elaborately decorated with carvings by Bhai Ram Singh in an intricate style, and with a carpet from Agra. She hangs portraits of Indians in the House. She tells the household that she intends to give Abdul a knighthood.
The Prime Minister is adamant that the royal household must find a way to get rid of Abdul. They research his family background in India, and present Victoria with a dossier to show that his family is more ordinary and poor than Abdul has told her.
Hate and bigotry as well as jealousy runs rampart among the Queen’s staff, especially her son and the Prime Minister. Since Victoria & Abdul is based on a true story, events are documented but scarce because much of the evidence had been destroyed by her son in order to delete this entire episode from history. Queen Victoria’s obsession with Abdul tends to define her somewhat insane but she is able to overcome this accusation. The remainder of Victoria & Abdul is quite interesting and shows a more disturbing character and a lesson in British history and the royal monarchy. Victoria & Abdul is on DVD and Blu-ray, I highly recommend it. Check it out.
[Victoria & Abdul was Oscar nominated for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.]