The upcoming film Victoria and Abdul will shine a light on the controversial friendship between Queen Victoria and her servant, Abdul Karim, focusing on the colonialism and Islamophobia of the time.
Abdul Karim became a servant to the Queen in 1887, alongside another Indian servant, and eventually rising in the ranks until he became her Indian Secretary.
In an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, the author of the book the movie is inspired by, Shrabani Basu said that Adbul’s job was to “stand behind her at the table, looking grand and sort of representing the Indian Empire.”
Basu says that Queen Victoria “longed to know about India” and that India came to her “in the form of Adbul Karim.”
But Abdul encountered prejudices all around him at court.
“They hated him because, A, he was – of course he was an Indian. It’s a subject race, and hse’s put him at the heart of the court. Secondly, he’s a commoner. He’s not even a prince. He is being given the same treatment as, you know, members of the household who are all the aristocracy,” says Basu.
Upon Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, Edward VII had him sent back to India and all of his correspondence with the Queen was destroyed. Princess Beatrice, the youngest of Queen Victoria’s children, who had the arduous task of copying her mother’s diaries, removed all references to him.
Ali Fazal, who plays Abdul in the film, says, “The moment you get insecure, you start to look at the other person and find these faults…and say… you’re lesser, and you’re not qualified for this job because you’re from that side of the world.”
Victoria and Abdul marks the second time Dench has played the monarch. She previously played the Queen in 1997’s Mrs Brown, a biopic that focused on the friendship between Queen Victoria and her Scottish servant John Brown.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and will be widely released this Autumn.