The opening credit—Based on real events mostly—sets the tone for this delightful tale of affection between an aging queen and a handsome Indian clerk.
Twenty years after delivering a captivating performance as a younger Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, Judi Dench returns to the role and succeeds in capturing all the nuances of the bored, sharp-tempered monarch. At least, that’s how Queen Victoria appears at the beginning of the film.
The arrival of Abdul Karim, portrayed by Bollywood star Ali Fazal, changes everything. Ignoring instructions, Abdul boldly makes eye contact and kisses the Queen’s feet at a dinner commemorating the Golden Jubilee. Flattered, Victoria returns his gaze and brings him into her service.
A friendship develops as Abdul, now called Munshi (teacher), meets regularly with Victoria and offers a form of escape from her tedious duties. Fascinated, Victoria listens as Abdul introduces her to the foods, languages, and customs of India. Hoping to keep Abdul in England, Victoria arranges for the arrival of his burqa-wearing wife and mother-in-law.
Her family and ministers are not amused by this relationship. Comments are whispered about “Munshi mania” and “the brown John Brown” as members of the household plot to rid themselves of the royal interloper.
While history suggests a maternal relationship, there appears to be lust in Victoria’s eyes. As for Abdul, his motivations are never fully revealed. Was he smitten or simply scheming to curry more favor?
A well-crafted film worthy of several Oscar nominations.