“Victoria & Abdul” – A Royal Friendship Swept Under the (Persian) Carpet

It is difficult to express how much this movie exceeded my expectations.  Of course from the previews and the photo ads I knew it was going to be a historical tale of two friends, maybe even two lovers.  I was expecting the royal charm that it did, in fact deliver, but I had no idea that it would be so funny.  “Victoria & Abdul,” a Focus Features film, is as much a charmingly fun movie as it is a bit of a heart-wrenching one.

Historically, and to her subjects, Queen Victoria has been made out to be somewhat of a callous, uncaring ruler, but in “Victoria & Abdul,” we see her in a totally different light.  No better actress could have been chosen to play the Queen than, Dame Judi Dench.  To say she is stupendous in this role would be an understatement. Danny Cohen, the cinematographer, should be commended for the beautiful scenery which at times, especially during the harbor scenes, felt as if postcards were coming to life.

Ali Fazal plays Abdul Karim, who was sent from India in 1887 to present Queen Victoria with a special coin called a Mohur, which was minted in honor of her “Golden Jubilee” (a celebration commemorating her 50th anniversary as Queen.) He’s given specific instructions not to make eye contact with her, as is the rule for all non-royals. Somehow, he manages to catch her eye, she finds this amusing and their friendship ensues. Queen Victoria is so intrigued and becomes so obsessed with Abdul that the royal household thinks she’s lost her mind. Director, Stephen Frears, uses the artistry of close-ups to give the audience and intimate view of the Queen’s feelings and true personality.  I personally thought the movie portrayed Queen Victoria as someone who, despite her position of power, was also humble and tolerant of racial differences way ahead of her time.

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Abdul teaches Queen Victoria how to write in Arabic

Queen Victoria was the Empress of India, but had never been there because her court feared she would be assasinated.  When Abdul comes to the palace, she is fascinated by his knowledge of history, culture, language, and the Muslim religion and she wants to learn about all of it. She quickly promotes him from servant to teacher; she even gives him his own servant.  To the disappointment of her son, future King Edward VII (“Bertie,”) played by Eddie Izzard, who is a dead ringer for the real the Edward VII, the Queen continually uses her power to bestow royal titles upon Abdul, sometimes even referring to him as “son.”  

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Actual photo of Queen Victoria working with Abdul ready to assist. 

When the Queen passed away and Edward VII became King, he did everything in his power to sweep Victoria and Abdul’s relationship “under the rug,” but nearly 100 years later, a journalist named Shrabani Basu discovered the story and wrote the book on which the movie is based.  I think you’ll find “Victoria & Abdul” amusing and a “feel good” movie to watch with the family.  Note, it’s rated PG-13.

Are you planning to see it? Check back and let me know what you think by posting your comments. – BMT

 

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