Victoria & Abdul (2017)


Cast includes: Judi Dench (Skyfall), Ali Fazal (Furious 7), Tim Pigott-Smith (Quantum of Solace), Eddie Izzart (Ocean’s Thirteen), Michael Gambon (Gosford Park), Olivia Williams (An Education), Fenella Woolgar (Bright Young Things)
Director: Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen, High Fidelity)
Genre: Drama | History (192 minutes)

Huffington Post

1877, strikingly tall Abdul negotiates the crowded streets of Agra, India going to work. His job is writing names into a ledger while workers create carpets fine enough for the British royal household. In honor of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, India is presenting a mohur, a special gold coin. Abdul is chosen for the honor along with Mohammed. “What happened to the tall chap?” Elephant accident… so now the presentation team seems oddly irregular. “We’re going to die there. England is completely barbaric!” says Mohammed. Etiquette instructions begin onboard… “The key to good service is standing still and walking backward… walk, thus… bow, thus… present, thus… and whatever you do, you must not look directly at the queen.”

Queen Victoria’s endurance is sorely tested with jubilee events. As she sits at the end of a very long dining table, each course is announced with military fanfare… half eaten courses are cleared instantly when she puts down her fork. Abdul and Mohammed, dressed in English flavored Indian costumes, make the long walk to present the coin. It goes well until Abdul commits the ultimate sin… eye contact with Her Majesty. The exchange is mostly unnoticed, except the queen later comments… “The tall one is terribly handsome.” Abdul catches her attention once again and is asked to be the queen’s personal footman for the remainder of Jubilee. Abdul is persistently attentive with constant small talk… about writing, carpets, nature, food and duty. Queen Victoria is taken with the unusually engaging young man. Over time, his role grows, to the consternation of the royal household. She gradually elevates his status, naming him as her “Munshi”... teacher, friend and advisor.

Abdul’s observations are prophetic… “The skill of a carpet maker is to bring all the different threads together to make a carpet we can stand on.” The royal court, however, is in no mood to combine different threads into the social fabric of England. They’ll do anything to separate the queen from her Munshi. Victoria & Abdul is “based on real events… mostly.” It isn’t hard to predict the plot points. However, the beauty of this film is in watching it unfold. It’s a gorgeous depiction of a warm friendship between a British monarch and a commoner… a “colored” commoner, as her family points out. After the death of Albert, Queen Victoria befriended a Scotsman named John Brown. His death came as a relief to the court but left the queen bereft. Now Abdul seems to have taken Brown’s place. Judi Dench is wonderful as Queen Victoria. However, the success of this film depended on the casting of relatively unknown Ali Fazal as Abdul. Creative license seems to have been taken in the portrayal of Abdul, who, in reality, may have been less selfless than portrayed in the movie. The Abdul we see has just the right mix of charm, innocence and instinct. Queen Victoria treasurs his friendship, and will forgive him anything… “You are a fool, but I adore you.” The royal family… not so much… they managed to keep this story hidden until 2010, when Abdul’s diary was finally shared.

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

The unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and an Indian subject

Popcorn Profile

Rated: PG-13 
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Mood: Upbeat
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Queen Victoria and an unlikely friendship
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking

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