This is a story that you might find difficult to believe. Adapted from a book written by Sharabani Basu, which is based on the journals of Abdul Karim recently discovered in India; we see an unlikely friendship develop between a common Indian Muslim man, and the Empress of India and Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
I personally don’t think there’s a cast or director out there who could have done a better job portraying this particular story. Dame Judi Dench (James Bond, Philomena, Mrs Brown) once again takes on the role of Queen Victoria, alongside Ali Fazal (Furious 7) as Abdul Karim; surrounded by other brilliant actors (Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Tim Piggot-Smith, Olivia Williams) playing the members of the court disgusted and insulted by the development of this relationship. All led by the director Stephen Frears, who was present for a Q&A after the screening, his most recent successes include The Queen with Helen Mirren, Philomena with Judi Dench, and Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep.
The film begins in India and follows Abdul’s journey to England to be involved in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee; after some actions deemed highly inappropriate by the court, the Queen decides to keep Abdul close and begins to learn much about India and Islam from the man the court repeatedly referred to as “one of the Hindus”. She confides in Abdul, revealing her more vulnerable side to the audience, regarding her feelings towards her position and life in general. Although the beginning is quite humorous with many good laughs from both Dench and Fazal throughout, the film takes a darker path as we continue to learn about the Queen’s difficult life, and the court’s ignorance and prejudice against Abdul.
It is a difficult time, with Muslim-led mutinies against British rule breaking out in India, and some deceptions by Abdul does not help his case against the accusations by the court and Prince Edward or “Bertie” (Eddie Izzard). Regardless, the Queen keeps him on as her “Munshi” (teacher), she describes herself as being truly happy for the first time in a long while, and likely as an intentional provocation. Despite numerous attempts to discredit Abdul and blackmail the Queen, Abdul was in the service of the Queen for the final 15 years of her life. This, along with many incidents in the film, appear to be close to the real events that took place over 100 years ago.
I believe that the performances in this film were emotive and believable. It was quite a different kind of performance from Eddie Izzard than what we are used to, but he gave a strong and compelling portrayal of the jealous heir to the throne. One character who may not get as much notoriety is that of Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), he is the other Muslim, Indian man involved in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. However, he is not lucky enough to have captured the Queen’s attention and is kept in England against his will and in detriment to his health. Nevertheless, he remains faithful to his Indian brethren despite attempts of the court to get him to disclose information about Abdul. Of course, Dench and Fazal are touching in their representations; you laugh when they laugh and you cry when they cry. You feel as amazed as Abdul does in his new experiences, and you feel as trapped and depressed as Victoria does as monarch.
The Q&A with Stephen Frears gave an interesting insight into the making of this film. He was very blunt and to the point in his answers, extremely matter of fact. We found out that it only took 10 weeks to complete filming and it was the first production allowed to film inside Osbourne House, a former Royal residence on the Isle of Wight. He admitted he enjoys making provocative films that test the waters and opinions of the time; despite this fact, we were told the actors were professional and generally of a liberal mindset, this meant the idea of pushing any boundaries or causing controversy did not phase anyone involved.
In conclusion, I highly recommend seeing this movie; it’s fun, silly and emotional, with stellar actors who perform to a high standard. The story is simple but not one that’s been told before, and will make you want to more about this beautiful, heart warming, and unlikely friendship.