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Review by Sophia Ayub
Normally, my typical movie preference tends to lean towards something light-hearted and fictional, whereby the story is purely formed from the writer’s imagination, in collaboration with the director’s creativity. However, when I came across the trailer for Victoria and Abdul and was introduced to the unlikely friendship formed between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim – a common prison clerk – I was immediately intrigued to know more.
The story follows the journey of a prison clerk named Abdul Karim who is given the task – due to his favourable height – of travelling to England to present Queen Victoria with ‘a gift from India,’ to mark the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. When Victoria first meets Abdul she describes him as handsome, and she wants him to serve her – from being her private footman to eventually progressing to the job of being her Munchi (teacher). A unique bond grows between them which results in both Queen Victoria’s family and members of the household becoming threatened and jealous of the bond they share.
As the Queen’s health continues to deteriorate, she becomes fearful that she is unable to protect Abdul from this hatred; however, Abdul insists that he will stay by her side till the end. When it eventually comes down to Queen Victoria’s last moments, she requests to see Abdul one last time and looks to him for comfort, which he provides, putting both her mind and heart at rest. With a great struggle, she speaks her last words to Abdul, referring to him as her son, and thanking him greatly for his companionship.
Throughout the film you are able to recognise a real sense of racial prejudice amongst the members of the household and the family. This is demonstrated excellently by all of the actors, who portray a real sense of hatred through their manner when they are around Abdul and through their tone when speaking to or about him. The household finds it an extreme insult to be considered ‘equal’ to a dark-skinned Indian, never mind for him to be cherished by the Queen.
This hatred is evident in Henry’s actions, through his constant plotting and scheming in attempts to defame Abdul. As Victoria’s son, it is interesting to see how both Abdul’s race, as well as his connection with his mother, aggravate Henry so much that he is unable to recognise the happiness that she experiences by having such a companion. In all fairness, it does not come to much of a surprise, as Henry seems ignorant to other things; such as his mother’s hardships, and her maternal love for a simple boy who shows her respect, unlike her own son. I personally found it quite horrific to see the effects on the relationship between mother and son, all as a result of the throne. It really does give the audience a different kind of perspective on what secrets lie within the monarchy.
Overall, I thought the film was a beautiful portrayal of friendship and diversity. Throughout this historical narrative, we see an incorporation of comedy, which I found quite refreshing and this encouraged my interest in this piece of history. It is pertinent that the film discusses elements of racial prejudice, as this may push the audience to consider how far society has progressed and whether we’ve actually come that far at all? Have we really progressed or does this social injustice still exist within royalty, or even within society? We are able to view a dark side to the monarchy which deprives individuals of choice and freedoms all for the sake of image and prestige. I highly recommend this film; it provides an insight into the wonders of an uncovered history – its beauty as well as its devastation.