Everyone loves a good, heartfelt story about friendship, but what better than to document an unlikely and unconventional friendship? Victoria & Abdul personifies a rather odd, yet fruitful friendship that assisted with bringing joy to Queen Victoria's life during her final days of ruling. Also based on true events (mostly), director Stephen Frears (The Queen), and screenplay writer Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) bring this historic story to life in a myriad of ways- but is it enough to do complete justice to a pivotal friendship?
This film revolves around the friendship between Queen Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) and Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), where Victoria made Karim her teacher (otherwise known as Munshi) after an encounter during a banquet in Buckingham Palace. They develop a strong correlation seeing as Victoria becomes heavily intrigued by his culture, religion, language and overall cultural background. This very friendship causes some controversy within the palace, seeing as Karim is from a different culture and religion (Muslim), in the sense that Her Majesty may be harming her reputation; however, the more rejection and disapproval that Victoria receives regarding this unconventional bond; the more determined she is to welcome Karim into his new home, the palace.
Frears’ adds a comedic and pleasant twist to the overall production along with Hall lightly criticising the court and their pompous behaviour towards Victoria’s friendship with Karim. It is clear that this film is one-dimensional in the sense that Frears and Hall portray the Queen’s advisers as a nuisance whereas Karim, her Munshi; was anything but being a nuisance. Frears’ does ignore the fact that Karim was also known as heavily ambitious and deceitful seeing as he lied to the Queen about his parentage. The pair’s depiction of this story is a more tranquil, uplifting and easy-going representation, as opposed to outlining the full truth and reality of the friendship, most likely given this is based mostly on Karim’s real life journals. Hence why although Victoria & Abdul is based on a true story- it does fabricate certain events in order to create a film of peace, correlation and harmony which can be mildly off-putting to viewers who wanted to watch the real facts to the story.
In saying that, the portrayal of the characters was done so exceptionally well that you are obliged to forget about the facts, and to instead focus on the strong connection between the Queen and Karim. Dench herself, was not knighted a Dame for nothing- this movie epitomizes her artistry, and with this film; she expands her acting talents and delivers even more than expected. Her effortless elegance and vibrant persona make it a lot easier to see Queen Victoria through her in the sense that we are able to delve into this timeline for a short moment as Dench allows us to. Ali Fazal also brings Karim’s charm and charisma to the forefront of this film and corresponds very well to Dench’s portrayal.
Overall, despite some inaccuracy towards some facts; it is uplifting to see a film that discourages any form of prejudice and bias and instead encourages friendship and harmony from all cultural backgrounds. Thomas Newman’s score adds to the royal magic to this film so the overall production was done exceptionally well but maybe it would have been better to tell the story in it’s truest form. Nevertheless, Fear’s pleasant and positive portrayal leaves the audience with a warm feeling in their souls.