The story of the unlikely friendship between an aged English Queen and her Indian servant starring Judy Dench and Ali Fazal. Based on historical fact, this friendship is especially revealing following recent discovery of the servant’s diary.
Without the diary entries and almost complete lack of written correspondence provide an opportunity for the movie to complete the story. Edward Vll’s destroying this written evidence and banishing Abdul and his family from England ensure the final tragic twist in the drama.
Abdul, employed as a young servant and later as Queen Victoria’s confidant and language teacher, holds an increasingly special role in the life of the monarch. What’s clever is the way this innocent relationship shows up the power hungry machinations of the royal court and those jostling for power. Without this dramatic ‘device’ it would conceivably take the duration of an entire feature to play out their drama.
But is Abdul Karima a conniving manipulator who worms his way into Queen Victoria’s favour? The film shows otherwise portraying his genuine intentions in contrast to those around him.
The Queen calls him her Munshi as his servant role changes to language teacher and private confidant. She seems to blossom and take on a new persona learning to speak and write a new language rather than reminiscing on her long reign and bothering with the tiresome power play surrounding her.
The strength of the film relies on Judy Dench’s consummate acting ability as she imbues depth of character into a part that could otherwise appear two dimensional. It is made more compelling since her age matches that of the late monarch and she conveys a reflective self portrait – a kind of greatness mixed with vulnerability. Ali Fazal’s Abdul is equally effective as he projects genuine charm without overly reacting against racial and cultural bias.
Highly recommended movie.