Whilst my interest in the British Monarchy has always been centred on the Tudor Era, and the Windsors have held little fascination for me, this movie utterly captivated me. Besides, being historically informative, the movie tells the most beautiful story of the relationship that existed between an elderly, depressed and sad Queen Victoria and an Indian servant who was sent from Agra in India to the English Court, together with a colleague, to present the queen, who was Empress of India, with a ceremonial coin.
The two Indian servants were instructed to present Her Majesty with the coin, at a special banquet, and then walk backwards away from her, without making eye contact, but Abdul, who was a good looking man, caught the Queen’s eye, and the rest is history.
In an effort to assuage her lonely mundane existence, she befriends Abdul, and names him her “Munshi”, meaning spiritual teacher. He teaches her how to speak Urdu, quotes the Quran to her, and brings happiness and excitement back into her life. She invites him to bring his family to England, and gives them land and a house to live in. He also becomes her secretary and confidante, much to the disgust of her children, her doctor and her staff. But, she dismisses their objections, and Abdul remains her trusted and special munshi until her death.
In fact, she calls for him just before she takes her last breath, and he is with her until the very end.
This story had been largely lost until recently, because as I have already said, Victoria’s family, servants, household staff, and noblemen and women were horrified by their friendship and destroyed all evidence thereof, after her death, and banished Abdul Karim and his family back to India. The details of this remarkable friendship only fully emerged after the fairly recent discovery of Abdul’s diaries.
This movie made me laugh, it made me cry. It is a beautiful portrayal of a beautiful story, and it is so worth seeing. Dame Judi Dench gives a remarkable performance as Queen Victoria and Abdul is stunningly played by Ali Fazal.
Director Stephen Frears and writer Lee Hall must be congratulated for this masterpiece of a film.
The movie releases on 29 September at cinemas countrywide, and is classified 10 – 12 PG L P