A Magnificent Film – Victoria & Abdul

To be honest I don’t visit the cinema very often. Once in a while there is a film I’d love to see, but most of the time I simply miss that it is shown in one of the cinemas here in the city. Or I am too tired or too busy. But this time I didn’t forget and I am glad I went. On Sunday, on a quiet and sunny morning, I went to see “Victoria & Abdul” starring Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Apart from me there were only four other persons watching the film, only one elder than me surprisingly. One of them told me afterwards he goes to the cinema quite frequently and became curious after having seen the trailer when visiting another film.

Dame Judi Dench, of course, did a marvelous job playing the British Queen Victoria. I was not too sure about the way Abdul Karim (1863-1909) was characterized, only by times, especially towards the end his personality really showed more powerful. I didn’t know much about the story and might well order the book the film is mainly based on: Shrabani Basu – “Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s closest Confidant.” Abdul Karims personal diaries were only found in 2010. The film starts in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. 24-Year-old Abdul Karim, an assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, India, was chosen to deliver a gift to the Queen – who was also Empress of India. He was accompanied by Mohammed Buksh. The two men stayed in Great Britain as the Queen’s personal servants. Abdul became her “munshi” (teacher), and his relationship with Victoria was intense, but controversial. At one point it even led to a near-revolt in the royal household.

I do hope that also non royalty-watchers and history enthusiasts enjoy the film. Sometimes I wondered whether people without any previous knowledge would understand everything. Where the Queen was of course Her Majesty and even the staff was properly addressed with Mr(s), The Prince of Wales was from what I remember most of the time simply called Bertie, even by others than the Queen. And I wondered whether Victoria’s daughter Helena would really be introduced to people as Helena Augusta Victoria, Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. Some other royals also passed, mostly only by name. Also Victoria’s late husband Prince Albert was never mentioned by name, and I heard the name of John Brown a few times. It was clearly thought it was not necessary to explain their “appearance” any further.

Another thing that might have needed a bit more care, was the dating of events. The film started in 1887 and ended in 1901. In the meantime nobody ever started to look one day older and even I lost track of time. Only when Victoria at one point said that she by now had reigned for over 62 years I realized that we were soon reaching the year 1900 and Victoria’s death in 1901. As sometimes locations were given, it would have been somewhat handy to add years too.

I surely did enjoy the wonderful costumes, jewelry and not to forget the scenery. You never really get a look at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, or even Balmoral. But there are some wonderful shots from Osborne House, Isle of Wight, and the part filmed in Scotland looked superb – including the very British rain. By times I also had a very good laugh, for example when at the banquet she first met Abdul Karim, she was served her food first and did see her eat very quickly. Very funny was also the moment she first met the wife of Abdul Karim. But I won’t unveil any more secrets. Just go and watch yourself!

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