It’s “Good to be Queen,” Academy-award winner Judy Dench could say in her latest role as Queen Victoria in Victoria & Abdul. Given Dench’s previous portrayal of the Queen in the critically acclaimed film Mrs. Brown (1997), and now 20 years later, there is yet another mysterious bond that unfolds before the Royal Household.
This true story is based on a book of the same name by Shrabani Basu and is directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, and Philomena). The movie also stars Bollywood actor Ali Fazal of 3 Idiots, Furkey, and Furious 7— his first Hollywood film.
It’s 1887 and it is the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Celebration, the guest list of which includes numerous kings and royal dignitaries. Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) is one of the two Indian servants that arrive from India to assist in the Queen’s celebration, and is surprised to find himself in favour with her royal majesty.
India was the prize of the British Colonies and was famously referred to as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’. Queen Victoria develops an interest in Britain’s Indian territories, while Abdul is eager to educate her on India’s rich and diverse culture. This is the beginning of an unusual friendship between the ‘Empress of India’ and a 24-year old servant.
Two short years after the Golden Jubilee Celebration, Abdul is appointed as the Queen’s official clerk, or munshi in Urdu. There is much dissatisfaction among the Royal Household, with Abdul’s rise from a mere servant to a munshi, and him becoming the Queen’s closest confidante.
The Queen strongly opposes her inner circle’s jealousy and their inability to accept Abdul. In time, the Queen’s sheer determination prevails, as she is able to reject all murmurs of disapproval of her friendship with Abdul.
This delightful story will certainly spark a renewed interest in the scandal that nearly stained the last few years of Queen Victoria’s long rule.
--- Sabrina Joshi, Hollywood Correspondent