The story of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) is one of the most misunderstood relationships in history, and this latest film delves into the unlikely friendship that blossomed between them in a time when such a thing was particularly scandalous.

The film opens in Agra, India. In front of the stunning backdrop of the Taj Mahal, we’re introduced to Abdul as he finishes his morning prayers. Meanwhile, in England, Queen Victoria wakes up to a dozen servants marching into her room. They begin to fuss about her while she stares blankly ahead, miserable and apathetic.

The plot is kicked into motion when Abdul is suddenly told he’s being shipped to England to present an ancient coin to Queen Victoria. Why? He is the tallest worker they have. 

Along with a grumpy and short accomplice, the two are promptly put on a ship to England. They’re told there is only one rule – don’t make eye contact with the Queen.

Once they’re in the opulent banquet hall faced with an over-fed and fed-up Queen, Abdul can’t help himself. He locks eyes with the bored royal and her face lights up, marking the beginning of their strange and beautiful relationship.

Instead of going back to India, much to the dismay of Abdul’s accomplice (Eddie Izzard), the Queen urges the two to stay and promotes them as her personal servants. The more that the royal household disagrees with the Queen’s decision, the closer she invites Abdul into her life and into her home.

It’s beautiful to watch Queen Victoria come alive with a deepening curiosity about India, and Abdul, and for him to talk so proudly and passionately about his culture. His positivity and thirst for life reinvigorates her soul, and it’s truly touching to watch.

 

As the relationship between Queen Victoria and Abdul grows, important underlying issues rise. Racism, mental illness and cultural appropriation are all touched on – just to name a few.

One of the most interesting sub-plots was in the reveal that Abdul was Muslim, not Hindu. It was refreshing to watch a film that openly challenged the stereotypical views of Islam and Muslims, especially given the current world circumstances. To watch Abdul teach the Queen his Muslim dialect so proudly, and to see her so excited by it, was genuinely moving.

Muslims were seen as the enemy by the British at the time, as their soldiers had recently created a mutiny in India, killing thousands of British soldiers. It was incredibly powerful to watch the movie reveal the Queen’s ability to separate Abdul from the Muslims that had killed her citizens, while others in the royal household could not.

This rich film not only provided entertainment with excellent acting, beautiful cinematography and lush settings – it also touched on some serious and thought-provoking topics.

This poignant story between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul surprised me time, after time. Going in, I had low expectations for the film and exactly how interesting it would be – and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a beautifully shot movie with outstanding actors and just the right amount of comedy.

I laughed, I cried, and I was entirely engaged for the duration of the film. For a truly beautiful story, Victoria and Abdul is not one to miss.

-Melissa Sugarman

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