Victoria & Abdul
|Victoria & Abdul|
British release poster
|Directed by||Stephen Frears|
|Screenplay by||Lee Hall|
|Based on||Victoria & Abdul
by Shrabani Basu
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Melanie Ann Oliver|
|Box office||$62.8 million|
Victoria & Abdul is a British 2017 biographical comedy-drama film directed by Stephen Frears and written by Lee Hall. The film is based on the book of same name by Shrabani Basu, about the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim. An unofficial sequel to the 1997 film Mrs Brown, it stars Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith and Adeel Akhtar. The film had its world premiere at the 74th Venice Film Festival, and was theatrically released on 15 September 2017 in the United Kingdom and 22 September 2017 in the United States. It has grossed over $57 million worldwide.
Abdul Karim, a young prison clerk from Agra, India, is instructed to travel to England for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 to present her with a mohur, which has been minted as a token of appreciation from British-ruled India.
The Queen, who is lonely and tired of her fawning courtiers, develops an interest in and later a friendship with Abdul. She spends time with him alone, and promotes him to become her Munshi as his guardian. She asks him to teach her Urdu and the Qur'an. When Victoria discovers that he is married, she invites his wife and mother-in-law to join him to England. They arrive wearing black Burqas, to the consternation of the household.
While Victoria treats Abdul as a son, his preferment is resented by her household and inner circle, including her son Bertie and the Prime Minister. The household plots to undermine their relationship, hoping that Abdul will be sent home. When Victoria embarrasses herself by recounting to the court the one-sided account of the Indian Mutiny that Abdul had told her, Victoria's faith and trust in him are shaken and she decides he must go home. But the following day she changes her mind and asks him to stay. She gives Abdul a bejewelled locket with her photograph.
Victoria's interest in India grows, and at her Isle of Wight home of Osborne House, she has the Durbar Room built for state functions, elaborately decorated with carvings by Bhai Ram Singh in an intricate style, and with a carpet from Agra. She hangs portaits of Indians in the House. She tells the household that she intends to give Abdul a knighthood.
The Prime Minister is adamant that the royal household must find a way to get rid of Abdul. They research his family background in India, and present Victoria with a dossier to show that his family is more ordinary and poor than Abdul has told her. When Victoria insists her doctor examine Abdul to find out why his wife has not fallen pregnant, he discovers that Abdul has gonorrhea, and rushes to tell the Queen, expecting her to dismiss him in disgust. However, Victoria remains loyal to Abdul and admonishes her courtiers for plotting against him.
Eventually the household decides that, if Victoria does not break with Abdul, they will all resign. They also threaten to certify Victoria as insane. When Victoria is told, she angrily summons the entire household to the Durbar Room and demands that anyone who wants to resign step forward. When none do so, she tells them she has decided not to make Abdul a knight, but to include him in her next honours list as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
When Victoria falls ill, she urges Abdul to return to India, while she can still provide him with protection. She warns him that when she dies, the court will turn on him, but Abdul insists that he will stay with Victoria until the end of her life. In 1901, Victoria dies, and her son, Edward VII, rejects Abdul, burning all the gifts and papers he has received from the Queen, and sending him and his family back to India. Abdul's wife manages to save the locket for him. It is revealed that Abdul lived in India until his death eight years later in 1909. The film ends with Abdul kneeling at a large statue of the Queen close to the Taj Mahal, talking to it and kissing its feet in respect.
- Judi Dench as Queen Victoria
- Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim
- Eddie Izzard as Bertie, Prince of Wales
- Tim Pigott-Smith as Sir Henry Ponsonby
- Adeel Akhtar as Mohammed
- Simon Callow as Mr. Puccini
- Michael Gambon as Lord Salisbury
- Julian Wadham as Alick Yorke
- Olivia Williams as Jane Spencer, Baroness Churchill
- Fenella Woolgar as Miss Phipps
- Jonathan Harden as The Kaiser
- Paul Higgins as Sir James Reid, Physician to the Queen
- Robin Soans as Arthur Bigge
- Sukh Ojla as Mrs. Karim
On 17 June 2016, it was reported that Judi Dench would play Queen Victoria (reprising her role from the 1997 film Mrs Brown) in Victoria & Abdul, a film based on the book of the same name by Shrabani Basu. Stephen Frears was set to direct. On 5 August 2016, it was announced that Ali Fazal would play Victoria's confidant Abdul Karim, while the film would be co-produced by Working Title Films and BBC Films, and co-financed by BBC and Focus Features. Focus also handles U.S. distribution rights, while Universal Pictures International handles all other countries. The script was written by Lee Hall, and the producers are Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward, Tim Bevan, and Eric Fellner, while the other cast includes Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigott-Smith, and Adeel Akhtar.
Costumes from the production were on display at Osborne House, from 24 July until 30 September 2017. To capitalise on the renewed interest in Victoria arising from both the film and the concurrent second season of ITV's Victoria television series, the Isle of Wight Tourist Board has created a 'Victoria's Island Trail' encouraging tourists to visit the key locations on the island that have connections to the Queen.
Victoria & Abdul was released for audiences in the United Kingdom on 15 September 2017, followed by a U.S. general release on 22 September.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 66% based on 151 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, "Victoria & Abdul reunites Dame Judi Dench with the role of Queen Victoria — which is all this period drama needs to overcome its imbalanced narrative." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 57 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Writing for The Independent, Amrou Al-Kadhi was highly critical: "Films like Victoria & Abdul seek to absolve our barbaric behaviour in colonised countries." He criticised the white-washing of the British Raj and the "offensive two-dimensionality" of Abdul's character, who is shown kissing the feet of Queen Victoria and expressing gratitude for being among the "glorious people" of the British Empire.
In The Guardian, Simran Hans described the film as "well-meaning", but she was also critical of the depictions of both Abdul and the British Empire. She noted that "The film takes great pains to absolve Victoria of colonial responsibility, painting her, bizarrely, as tolerant and reviled for it." Hans also wrote that "This kind of historical revisionism is a stretch that, at best, works as a cute royalist fantasy and, at worst, dresses up its endorsement of colonialism and empire as something progressive." Xan Brooks, writing separately for The Guardian, mocked the attempt to paint Queen Victoria as a "progressive outrider, railing against white racists", commenting that the director was only prevented from depicting Victoria as "Gandhi and Nehru come early" by historians holding a gun to his head. Brooks concluded that the film, "about the Raj era that looks as if it was made back then", was "peculiarly dodgy".
In the Daily Express, critic Andy Lea rated the film two out of five, describing Abdul's character as "disappointingly servile" and criticising the plot as "decent material for a knockabout farce", but praising Dench as "predictably brilliant". But Rex Reed in the New York Observer wrote: "Judi Dench gives a touching, majestic performance" and, complimenting the script and direction, he said that "every scene is gorgeous to look at, every shot magnificently detailed and richly framed. And the exemplary performances are as good as it gets in movies today."
In the Irish Independent, Paul Whitington, who rated the movie two out of five, was also critical of its historical revisionism, writing that "Victoria And Abdul offers a shamelessly saccharine version of British imperial history and seems to imply that the Raj was a bumbling, genial regime rather than a rapacious foreign occupation. The blandly smiling character of Abdul never achieves three dimensions and Izzard plays Bertie as such a conniving, liverish idiot that one wonders how he ever became such a popular king."
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- Al-Kadhi, Amrou. "Victoria and Abdul is another dangerous example of British filmmakers whitewashing colonialism". The Independent. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
- Hans, Simran. "Victoria and Abdul review – rather fun in a royalist way". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
- Brooks, Xan. "Victoria & Abdul review – Judi Dench's class act can't compensate for lazy Raj-era nonsense". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
- Lea, Andy. "Victoria and Abdul review: An interesting true story that feels like a cop-out". Daily Express. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
- Reed, Rex. "Victoria and Abdul review: Judi Dench Gives a Touching, Majestic Performance in 'Victoria and Abdul'". New York Observer. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
- Whitington, Paul. "Movie reviews: Victoria and Abdul". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 September 2017.