Victoria and Abdul

I watched Victoria and Abdul at the cinema this week. It is a good film, alternating between levity and gravity throughout. Dench plays well the aged Queen Victoria, and Ali Fazal her devoted Indian servant, friend and spiritual advisor, Abdul Karim. The film critics have been at best lukewarm and at worst sneering, which in my book means it’s probably a good watch. It deals with complex issues such as imperialism, the generational gap, social class and race. The lonely Queen, widowed young but now grown old, is given a new lease of life by her beautiful young Indian companion, much to the chagrin of her household and family.

Eddie Izzard proves himself a better actor than politician, though he portrays Bertie, the Prince of Wales, as unnecessarily unpleasant. Although he did order that his mother’s correspondence with the Munshi be burned after her death, and did resent her infatuation, he turned out to be a genial, popular king who enjoyed the common touch.

The real Karim, unlike the film’s version, did ask his patron to promote his friends back home, and even asked to be made a Nawab, a lord. The film didn’t show this, instead focusing on his devotion and loyalty to Her Britannic Majesty. In a rather touching scene, he teaches her Urdu. It was refreshing to see a positive portrayal of Muslim Indians during the days of the Raj, and a European monarch without a trace of racial prejudice.

Snobbery and racism were two arch-vices of the Victorian age, and sadly, the British Empire perpetuated and promulgated them. We must not, however, assume that these prejudices died out with that Queen; they live on, obnoxious both to God and men. 

Behold the Islands with their Kings,

And Europe her best Tribute brings;

From North to South the Princes meet

To pay their Homage at his Feet.


There Persia glorious to behold,

There India shines in Eastern Gold;

And other Nations at this Word

Submit and bow and own their Lord.

(Picture: Wikipedia Commons)