Queen Victoria, also known as the Empress of India, was born in 1819 and had a life quite unlike any Queen before her. She reigned for 63 years, had nine children, one husband and two very dear companions – one of who was a man named Abdul Karim. Based on the book by Shrabani Basu and directed by Stephen Frears, the new film Victoria & Abdul stars Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, and Eddie Izzard in the story of “History’s most unlikely friendship”.
After suffering a melancholy childhood and an unhappy relationship with her mother, the newly crowned Queen Victoria began to enjoy living her life and soon after was married to Prince Albert, a man who she declared bought her “great happiness”.
After many happy years of marriage Albert suddenly became ill and died aged 42, leaving the Queen in deep mourning. Those who knew her said she was never the same after he passed away. She found comfort and friendship in a servant called John Brown, and the two were inseparable until his unexpected and early death. The Queen was without a close companion once again – that is, until the arrival of Abdul.
Abdul Karim left India, his wife and family and travelled to England to work in the service of Queen Victoria in 1887, just after the her Golden Jubilee. The man who entered her service as a waiter became her clerk – and then her best friend. Their relationship became a subject of gossip, with some saying Abdul was exploiting her, and others doubting her ‘maternal affection’. She thought so much of him that she had his portrait painted, and made him the gift of land in India. They spent much of their time together at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and this is the setting for Victoria and Abdul. Despite widespread disapproval from Queen Victoria’s family, Abdul was her constant companion until her death in 1901.
Much of what we know about the Queen comes from her own written words – although many of her original 122 journals were burnt after her death, edited versions exist alongside the remaining originals, and her letters of correspondence continue to emerge as the years pass. Some of her thoughts are lost forever, like her correspondence to Abdul – which her successor to the throne demanded to be confiscated and destroyed. We know more about the private life of Victoria now than most others knew in her lifetime – although she was considered open and honest, she was also discreet. Victoria and Abdul promises to shed more light on the everyday life of the much-loved Queen, and offers a closer look at the man who brought so much joy to the later part of her life.
Victoria and Abdul is released in cinemas on the 15th of September.
By Lara Skingsley