Based on the book by Shrabani Basu, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ is a story about an unusual bond. Breaking all protocol and tradition, Queen Victoria (played by Dame Judi Dench) forged a special friendship with her servant Abdul Karim (played by Ali Fazal), who was chosen from India to serve a small purpose. In return, he received much more than he could ever have imagined.
The scene is set in Agra, India 1897, during the British rule. Abdul Karim, is just an average guy living in the bustling city of Agra, working as a clerk recording names of prisoners at the Central Jail, but also overlooked the carpet weaving factory onsite. The carpets or rugs weaved by prisoners was a form of rehabilitation for them. Some had also been commissioned for the Queen’s South Kensington palace too.
Suddenly, Karim who is going about his day, is summoned to the Jail Superintendent office where he is was selected to be one of two servants to Queen Victoria as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. Mohammed Buksh (Adeel Akhtar) was the second servant selected (though that wasn’t through choice). Having being briefed about the English mannerisms, the pair boarded the ship to England to present a ceremonial coin, the Mahoor. Fazal and Akhtar’s pairing worked well. On one hand there was this young lad who clearly had ambition and a positive outlook, where as the other is older and would prefer to stay back home and have an easier life.
Dench didn’t fail to deliver as Queen Victoria, her expressions summed up the relentless duties of a 81 year old Queen and at times her silence spoke a thousand words. The delivery of the one-liners by Dench are excellent. The film gives you an insight into Queen Victoria’s vulnerable side, something that she is unable to display as she was the Queen – her loneliness that she harboured for many years as a widow, missing her husband and companion. Her ailments that came with old age added to her list of burdens. However in the midst of that she meets a friend who is willing to share her problems, to listen and understand her feelings. She found someone who made her feel alive again, to reassure her that she does have a purpose.
The formula in which the film has been made, has to be said is outstanding. Throughout the film there is subtle dry humour along the way which makes it enjoyable. Although the story was set in the 19th century, it was interesting to see that many of the issues prevalent back then are things we still face today, racism, class divide and cultural differences. Watching the ignorance by the household, who failed to try and understand Karim was apparent and you could not help but feel sorry for him, but the support Victoria gave was heart warming. For her, the friendship was purely based on mutual respect and understanding for one and other as human beings.
It was very endearing to see their relationship develop, with Dench and Fazal both exceeding expectations in their portrayal of their respective characters. The on screen chemistry between them could not be faulted; it is so natural and fun. And at no point did the film lose its storyline, flowing seamlessly, keeping the audience gripped with interest.
Fazal’s costumes become more lavish as the film goes on, which reflected the mood of Karim’s confidence and growing status within the Royal household, but became more sombre towards the latter part of the film.
The locations in the film were absolutely stunning, from Agra to Isle of Wight to the Highlands of Scotland, all picturised so beautifully – almost like a postcard. You did feel like you had been transported back in time and that was the beauty of it.
Towards the end, it almost felt a bit rushed when Karim returns to India. Maybe the reason for this could be that there wasn’t anything documented, but it would have been nice to see what his neighbours and old friends he’d left behind thought and how they reacted to Karim returning from his duties. What did they think of the controversy during his time in England?
With a stellar cast, a few key characters who were integral to the story also did brilliantly. From the late Tim Pigott-Smith as Sir Henry Ponsonby the Personal Footman, who has to battle trying to remain calm and professional as he slowly sees his job being taken by someone else. Eddie Izzard as Bertie, the impatient son waiting to become King and Michael Gambon as Lord Salisbury.
All-in-all, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ is a fabulous film which has so many wonderful moments that will bring a smile to your face. It’s about true friendship and what it stands for, and that is one thing you can take away from this.
BizAsiaLive.com rating: 4/5