FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 Kata Rocks
Login | Create Account Poll Currency Weather Facebook Youtube Search

Victoria and Abdul: a 130-year-old story for our times

Grouchy, greedy and constipated: nobody could accuse Stephen Frears of kowtowing with his portrayal of Queen Victoria in his new film Victoria & Abdul, which premiered in Venice on Sunday.

AFP

Friday 8 September 2017, 09:00AM


The director, who won a string of awards for The Queen, his 2006 depiction of Queen Elizabeth II in turmoil at the time of Princess Diana's death, returns to royal questions in a tale of the current British monarch's great, great grandmother's friendship with a young Indian Muslim, Abdul Karim, in the final years of her long reign.

Set at a time when the British Empire was at its peak and India was its "Jewel in the Crown", Frears' script lampoons the pomposity, arrogance and ignorance of the Imperial age.

But, he says, the convention-defying, cross-cultural relationship at its heart has resonance today, when Britain and India's relationship has been transformed but racism and Islamophobia linger.

"It was always meant to be funny," Frears said. "I thought, 'What film would Donald Trump most like to see?'."

Abdul, played by Ali Fazal, is a Indian Muslim prison clerk picked out, on the strength of his height and Victoria's liking for tall men, to be sent to London in 1887 to present the queen with a gold Mughal coin as part of celebrations to mark her golden jubilee.

It is supposed to be a fleeting visit on which, he is repeatedly told, he must above all avoid looking directly at his Empress, played by Judi Dench 20 years after her first turn as Victoria in "Mrs Brown".

It is an instruction Abdul flouts and having caught the sovereign's eye he is soon ensconced in the royal household, to the fury of her son Bertie, the future Edward VII, and a toadying clutch of buttoned-up courtiers and ladies-in-waiting who surround and stifle the monarch.

- Koran and poetry -

Indian actor Fazal said he had delved into history books to get a grasp of Abdul's unique experience.

"That time was so different and so essential to this fantastical little world that these two created at the middle of this massive British Empire," he said.

"The important thing was that we more or less humanised that era where there was protocol, there was racism and everything that we are still dealing with now."

The Victoria Abdul first encounters is frail and unhappy, a morbidly obese compulsive eater who is incapable of getting through her wolfed-down meals without smearing food across her face.

"I'm so lonely, everyone I've really loved has died and I just go on and on," she tells her new confidant, 30 years after the death of her husband Albert and four years after her later-life companion, Scottish gamekeeper John Brown, passed away.

Soon though she has recovered a glint in her eye as Abdul's presence gives her a new lease of life.

QSI International School Phuket

Dench said the offer to play Victoria again had been an "irresistible proposition".

"It is very, very complex her attitude to Abdul: not just a feeling of love, but the delight of being relaxed with someone without anyone around or any standing on ceremony."

Victoria and Abdul's bond strengthens as he teaches her Urdu and introduces her to the Koran and Indian poetry.

- Historical detective -

By this time the scandalised royal household is in open revolt, with the irascible Bertie (Eddie Izzard), playing chief mutineer, even threatening to have his mother certified insane.

Victoria stands her ground but with his protector ailing, it is clear Abdul's return to India is only a matter of time.

Abdul's story, and the remarkable fact that Victoria, who initially knew so little of India she had to ask him to describe a mango, learned sufficient Urdu to write letters in it, went untold for over a century, largely because of the efforts Bertie went to to destroy all evidence of it.

Traces survived however and some historical detective work by journalist Shrabani Basu brought the story back to life.

Her book, "Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant," was written after she discovered 13 of Victoria's journals which, because they had been written in the Urdu Abdul had taught her, had been overlooked by British historians.

She then tracked down, via a nephew of Karim's in Karachi, a diary that he had kept as well as some surviving correspondence between the two that had lain forgotten in the vaults of the Royal Archives.

The letters confirmed the degree of intimacy between the young man and the dying monarch.

Invariably sprinkled liberally with kisses, Victoria describes her protege in one as a "true friend."

Frears' film was shown outside of competition at the Venice festival where the director was due to receive a lifetime achievement award at a gala ceremony later Sunday.

 

 

Comment on this story

* Please login to comment. If you do not have an account please register below by simply entering a username, password and email address. You can still leave your comment below at the same time.

Comments Here:
Comments Left:
# Characters
Username:
Password:
E-mail:
Security:

Be the first to comment.

 

Phuket community
Phuket jet-ski mechanic drowns in lake test drive

The tropical brain has no need to plan for a future with food abundant year round. Indeed the future...(Read More)


Phuket History: Sex in early Siam

Yada yada yada. Women were, and are still doing all the housework, i.e. acting as personal body ser...(Read More)


Phuket jet-ski mechanic drowns in lake test drive

As I read this, there was no surprise at all, and the Captain summed it up in a nutshell. No additi...(Read More)


More foreigners rounded up for visa offences

How about all these thai thai school directors who employed so many foreign teachers illegally? Thes...(Read More)


World Cup gambling operation busted in Rawai

Uh oh, break out the army, someone's having a bet, how very juvenile, but please continue to dri...(Read More)


Pattaya vendor fined for threatening to shoot Chinese tourists

"Simple contract matter" you're assuming there was, in fact, a "contract", a...(Read More)


Phuket History: Sex in early Siam

"Their conclusions are no different to present day white supremacists one reads daily in the co...(Read More)


Phuket raid at Patong plaza catches lone fake brand-name bag vendor

Every shop in Patong has counterfeits of one sort or another. The only one that got raided was beca...(Read More)


Pattaya vendor fined for threatening to shoot Chinese tourists

Really? So negotiating a price is the same as committing to a purchase? People are killed for changi...(Read More)