The South Bank Review Winter 2017 | Victoria & Abdul review
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Victoria & Abdul review

Photo Credit: Koushik C

Stephen Frears returns with a riveting, comedy-drama which tells the untold story of a relationship between an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Indian servant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). The film is based on the book by Shrabani Basu and is set in the late 19th century when the Queen was over 60 years old and the longest serving monarch in history. Two Indians are brought to England to present the Queen with her ceremonial coin at the Queens Jubilee. They are both strongly advised not to look at her majesty and must look at the floor. It is when Karim disobeys this command and locks glances with the Queen, which sparks a bond between them. He kneels down and kisses her feet which is quite humorous. His charm fascinates her and this meaningless gesture in his eyes, changes his life completely as they become very close. Such a bond between an Indian servant and the Queen was unacceptable and morally wrong therefore creating an uproar.  

The royal household becomes jealous of their bond and begin to eavesdrop their conversations. They call Karim names under her majesty’s watch, but she brings an end to this, reintroducing him as part of the family.  The Queen tells her family that ‘Abdul has risen on his own merits, now he is my friend.’ She requests for Karim to be her personal footman and she quickly falls in love with him. His vibrant energy excites her and she asks him to be her Munshi (language teacher). The Queen falls in love with Indian history and begs that he teaches her Urdu and the Qur’an. In exchange, she teaches him English. She confides in him and brings him into her secrets. 

The film is bound to make an audience of all ages laugh, from Karim’s comical behaviour, to the unladylike mannerisms of the Queen.  The very first shot of the film is of Karim kneeling down, praying to Allah. The audience is made aware of the humble and simple lifestyle in which he comes from. Therefore, when we later see Karim living with the Queen, it makes you chuckle considering his past. However, the first shot of her majesty is when many of her servants come into her room, to pull her out of bed and dress her. She is then shown at the Jubilee scoffing her food. I enjoyed this scene as we are shown the opposite of how a queen is expected to behave. I also liked the last shot of the film because Karim builds a statue of her majesty in front of the Taj Mahal in loving memory of her, which shows his appreciation for everything she had done for him and his family. One thing I disliked about the film, is that it seems fast-paced. I feel like this because their friendship had reached a state which many envied and then suddenly the Queen dies.

I highly recommend this film to be watched with your family, especially those who love films based on a true story. The film is both hilarious and insightful, bringing the audience in on what really happened during the British Raj.

Nimo Musa
musan4@lsbu.ac.uk

Nimo Musa is a young creative writing student with Somali heritage who enjoys writing short stories. Born and raised in South East London, Nimo often enjoys centring her work around her love for the city. She wishes to teach English Literature abroad in the near future. Nimo has a passion for history which stemmed from working at the British Museum. Her interests lies in playing basketball with her brothers in the park behind her house and watching crime films.