Sunday, 24 September 2017

Victoria & Abdul Film Review

I saw Victoria & Abdul last week, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Dame Judi Dench. The Great Dame to be honest as Judi was fantastic in the role.

Victoria is lonely after a lifetime of widowhood and service to the United Kingdom. And the Empress of an India she has never seen. Ali Fazal plays Abdul Karim, a prison clerk and tall enough to be brought to England to present the queen with a commemorative Indian medal. He caught Victoria's eye and she was enchanted. You can almost say he woke her up with his stories of India. At short notice along with him came Mohammed, the always hilarious Adeel Akhtar. He is not amused.

And Mohammed is as upset as the English at Abdul's elevation as teacher to Victoria. Her own personal Munshi. He just wants to go home, away from the god awful weather and food. Balmoral in the summer does not help. It's wet, cold and their new uniforms are scratchy tartan.

In the ever fawning royal and celebrity circle Abdul excelled. But I felt that he did love and treasure his time with Victoria as much as he enjoyed his elevation. And she was transformed. Of course Abdul was generously rewarded with riches beyond anything the lowly born Muslim could have ever imagined. And it caused much unhappiness in the inner royal circle, including Head-of-the-Household Tim Pigott-Smith, to whom the film was dedicated. And the ever impatient Prince of Wales. Played splendidly by Eddie Izzard.

But Abdul is in his element, visiting Rome and enjoying a sing song and dance with Victoria. When the queen learns he is married he is despatched to bring his wife (and mother-in-law). Both arrive in their traditional Muslim dress. Of course Victoria is entranced. The court not so much with this Munshi mania. And when they line up to tell her that he must go, well there's only one queen in this room.

Whether the film is totally accurate is a moot point, but it is based on 14 years of friendship between Victoria and Abdul. Their story was explored a few years ago when Abdul's portrait was discovered at Osbourne House, and then Victoria's books of Urdu were read at Windsor. It's a funny but sad story with a poignant ending that takes us back almost to where it all began.

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