The film takes place in 1887, a time when the country of India was under the occupation and rule of the British Empire. The story follows Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) an Indian who works as a prison clerk, until he is selected to journey to the heart of the British Empire and present a mohur, a minted coin, to the Queen of England and reigning Empress of India, Alexandrina Victoria (Judi Dench). However, what was supposed to be a single appearance for him, turns into a longstanding stay for Abdul as he finds himself forming a platonic relationship with Victoria, as he is soon taken into her inner circle as her Munshi (native language teacher). But while Victoria enjoys her blooming friendship with Abdul, her personal staff sees him as an insult to the political status of the British Crown, including Victoria’s eldest son, and the future king of England, Bertie (Eddie Izzard).This is a difficult story to critique, because while I’m certain various scenes were fictionalized for the sake of the film, I can’t outright call out which were accurate or inaccurate. After all, this is a story from over a hundred and thirty years ago, that took place in the most secure and private locations of England, with one of the most notable woman in British history, and much of the evidence was destroyed upon the turn of the century. It’s a miracle we’re just now learning about their story. Whether or not certain scenarios are accurate or not, it does not take away from the overall themes of the movie regarding culture, classism, and the tenuous relationship between Britain and India in the 19th century.
The story of Queen Victoria and Abdul stands as an example that no matter what culture you hail from, what level of class you come from, or even how old you are, it’s possible for anyone to become friends. Queen Victoria is a woman in her twilight years that has spent it surrounded by the rich and power hungry, where even lavish parties with political figures is just another ordinary day to her. Until she meets a young man from another land that opens her to a new culture and helps her enjoy her last few years with a new perspective and experiences. And from Abdul’s side of the story, he’s the fish out of water; a lowly guppy surrounded by snobbish upper class fish in a new ocean. But instead of swimming with the others, he brings some of his culture to this new world that wants little to do with him, except his new friend Queen Victoria.
Acting wise, Ali Fazal gives a superb performance as the gentle-hearted Abdul. Even when he has little to say, the man has a smile that could brighten a cavern. However, the one who steals the whole show is Judi Dench for her depiction of Alexandrina Victoria; she brings the twilight years of Victoria to life. In some scenes, she’s Victoria the frail and tired woman going through the motions until her eventual passing, but in the next, she’s Queen Victoria the hardened but firm ruler with decades of experience dealing with distrustful staff and uptight figures that commands respect. I also must give kudos to the set designers and prop makers for their work in creating lavish set pieces from the Queen Victorian era.
“Victoria and Abdul” is rated PG-13 for language and some thematic elements. Even if this movie doesn’t rank up there as my top favorite film, I consider it a movie that must be seen at least once by everyone for what it represents. That at one point in history, a common man from the streets of India, stood alongside one of the most powerful woman in the British Empire, not as a meager servant, but as a teacher, a companion, and a friend. The final score for “Victoria and Abdul” is a 7.5 out of 10.
Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.