A few days ago I watched the 2017 release “Victoria and Abdul”. It was OK. It was watchable to me because I enjoy period, historical dramas and the British royal family is interesting to me. The actors in the film did as good of a job as I think anyone could with the material they were given. This film could have been a complete disaster in the hands of the wrong film makers.
If you plan on watching this movie and you don’t like spoilers do not proceed. I don’t feel guilty about the spoilers in this movie because it isn’t a current release and it’s based on historical facts. Consider yourself warned.
So Abdul is a young man from India that worked in some sort of clerical position for a government office in colonial India. He was selected and ordered to travel to India to present the Queen Victoria with a coin that was being given to her as a gift from the people of India. When I say Abdul was selected to travel to India I mean he was ordered along with another government worker named Mohammed.
Once Abdul and Mohammed arrive in England they have to present the Queen with the coin that bears her likeness. They are ceremonial colored people. The pair are instructed not to make eye contact with the Queen and once she has been presented her coin on silver platter they are to back away. Abdul makes eye contact with Victoria while making his exit. The Queen remarks that she thinks that he is handsome.
Abdul and Mohammed are required to serve Queen Victoria at a different dinner. At this event after serving the Queen her dessert Abdul shockingly drops to his knees and kisses her feet. I’m unsure of why he did that but the Queen took a liking to him after that. He becomes her confidante, tutor and spiritual advisor. Much to the consternation of Mohammed their stay in England is prolonged.
Abdul irritated me throughout 90% of this movie. This grown, married man who had achieved some level of education was forced to travel to gloomy England and serve the Queen that stole their country and oppressed his people. Yet he was infatuated with her. I don’t understand it.
I really don’t understand the nature of Abdul’s feelings towards Victoria. She is the queen of the nation that colonized his country. Any healthy person would harbor resentment. I couldn’t tell if he admired her position of power, looked to her as a mother figure or if he had an attraction to her. Perhaps it was all three.
I can accept a platonic friendship or a loving surrogate mother/son relationship. But I felt at times that the film was hinting at romance and trying to create sexual tension. Victoria was a mother of nine and she was eighty one years old in the film. She had a long list of health problems. She was a woman well past her prime. I was hoping Abdul wasn’t so intrigued by the idea of having the attention of a White woman that he saw past all this. I was watching this movie like “Have some pride for goodness sakes Abdul she’s dying!”.
Particularly since he had a good Muslim, young, attractive, Indian wife back home. During a conversation between Victoria and Abdul his wife came up. The Queen was a bit disappointed and dismayed by the news and she felt betrayed that she had not been told about her. Then The Queen requested that Abdul’s wife be brought to England. Once again, this was an order not a request or suggestion.
The most interesting and relatable character in the movie was Mohammed who traveled to England with Abdul. He was a man with pride and looked at the world in a practical and realistic way. He resented having to travel to England, he hated England, he was upset with Abdul for prolonging their stay and he saw the British as settlers that oppressed the people of India.
Nonetheless, he was employed by their government in his homeland. I’m sure he saw his employment opportunity as the best deal that was being offered. I’ve learned that taken the best deal that is offered to you is a lot of what life is about. As a Black woman in America I strongly identify with Mohammed.
The relationship between Victoria and Abdul deepens and one day the monarch dies. The queens family and household staff resented Abdul and the attention he had from the queen. Once the queen passed away Abdul and his wife and mother in law were sent back to India. The queen’s son, Bertie Prince of Wales destroyed evidence of his influence over the royal palace.
A statue was erected near the Taj Mahal. Abdul lived nearby and visited the statue in the last scene of “Victoria & Abdul”. He was visibly aged and he kissed the feet of the statue and looked at it with adulation. Abdul had years to reflect on his banishment from the place that he grew to love and call home, the disrespect and poor treatment he received from everyone but the queen and the attempt the queen’s son made to completely erase his presence at the palace.
Abdul buried Mohammed, who proved himself to be a loyal friend, in England. Mohammed never wanted to come there and was anxious to return to India. Mohammed died in the royal palace as a prisoner to Queen Victoria.
He never came to realize that he and the queen were never on a level playing field and she pulled rank in the relationship on several occasions. The Queen Victoria loved, enjoyed, admired and in some ways respected Abdul. But she still looked upon him the way one views a pet. She didn’t really see him as a man.
I was frustrated with Abdul throughout this film. I think the director wanted to create a “Driving Miss Daisy” vibe but it didn’t happen in this film. I haven’t seen that film in years but if I recollect correctly Hoke put Miss Daisy in her place once or twice. There was mutual respect between the two of them even if they weren’t seen as peers outside of their relationship. Queen Victoria complained of having a long life as a queen but she never let Abdul know that she was queen and he was her subject.
I didn’t really like the film for personal reasons. But it’s actually OK. It runs for about two hours and the story sails along. I never look at a clock to figure out how much longer it was going to last. The setting and costumes were fun. I always like learning something new about history. And the actors were quite good. I don’t think you will hate it if you watch.