Review: Victoria and Abdul

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Victoria and Abdul

Victoria and Abdul is a movie based loosely on the true story of Queen Victoria and her friendship with Abdul Karim, her servant and closest confidante in her later years.

After having watched the preview, I’m glad to say that the movie was exactly what I expected. A mostly lighthearted take on historical events built for modern eyes and general audiences. See for yourself:

I watched a press screening with a mature audience (I was told one of the places they offered promotional tickets was to a local chapter of the Red Hat Society). It was a perfect crowd with a lot of loud laughter and applause, but I don’t feel like this was a movie that you need to be a senior citizen to enjoy.

Judi Dench plays a fantastic Victoria, as anyone who enjoyed Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown could attest. It’s  very appropriate that she reprise her role as the Queen in this relationship with her new confidante. Abdul is charmingly played by Bollywood star, Ali Fazal, who hopefully has more Hollywood roles in his future. Edie Izzard is also hilarious as the spoiled and terrible Prince Bertie. (Michael Gambon plays a serviceable Lord Salisbury, but I’ll confess that seeing him in a beard now made him look distractingly like he’d become a colonialist Albus Dumbledore.)

Not all the movie’s details are historically correct, and the movie indicates that it uses a dollop of artistic license at the very start. A mostly true story. The true story would have been slightly more boring for American audiences since Abdul Karim did not arrive in England with perfect command of English.

Queen Victoria really did have a decade-long, close platonic relationship with the much younger Abdul Karim, an Indian Muslim who tutored her in Urdu (then called “Hindustani.”) The relationship so shocked her racist and classist court and heirs, that they swept what they could of it under the rug after her death. Victoria’s children went so far as to burn her letters and selectively edit her journals. It was only in 2003 that a sharp-eyed journalist dug into a mystery and wrote the book that the movie is based on.

Victoria and Abdul
Image Courtesy Focus Features

Is this a movie you can enjoy with your children? It will depend on your children and their age. The rating is PG-13. Younger kids will likely miss the humor and consider it boring. You don’t need to worry about graphic depictions of violence or sex. However, you should be prepared to have a discussion about racism, Islamaphobia, different cultures, and (ahem) gonorrhea. I would not hesitate to watch this movie with my high-schooler. In fact, I probably will.

Victoria and Abdul is currently playing in limited cities. The movie hits wide release on October 6th.