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Watch the Intriguing Friendship Between the Queen and Her Servant in 'Victoria & Abdul'
The real-life story behind the unlikely friendship hits theaters this week.
IMAGE COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES PHILIPPINES
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Victoria & Abdul, the story of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and her servant is a film we highly recommend. Here are some reasons why.

Judi Dench’s regal performance

For Victoria & Abdul, Dame Judi Dench didn’t have to think twice about portraying Queen Victoria. The Academy Award winner had previously played the extraordinary Queen in John Madden’s Mrs. Brown, where Dench learned to sympathize with the monarch. Similar to Victoria & Abdul, the 1997 film chronicled the controversial relationship of Queen Victoria and her Scottish aide John Brown.


Dench offers, “Abdul was like an injection of youth and enthusiasm for Victoria. She could enjoy conversation with him, and he also afforded her something new to learn – language, culture. It was like a blood transfusion for her at that time. She adored him, and wanted to make the effort for him.”

Dench’s regal performance is at times subtle, but when needed, the Queen’s well-documented fiery side is made known. While in Abdul’s presence, Dench’s Victoria enters a second coming-of-age: fawning at the young Indian attendant’s every word and even acting coquettish to an extent. It is there that Dench brings new life to Queen Victoria and makes the unconventional friendship endearing and moving.

A look into Queen Victoria’s later years

Aside from the intriguing relationship, Dench brings a new light to Queen Victoria’s later years. Before being dethroned by her great-great-granddaughter, Queen Victoria once held the title for longest-serving British monarch with 63 years under her belt. In her later years, Queen Victoria clearly yearned for companionship after the death of her husband Prince Albert and her beloved servant John Brown.


Dench humanizes the Queen and offers a peek at life behind the royal curtains. Victoria & Abdul begins with a tired and weary Queen Victoria, one who does not care for royal pleasantries and formalities. Set in a difficult time in history, the Queen is almost a recluse. The film shows the Queen slurping her soup, showing outright disdain for her family, preferring to be distant to the people around her, crying and mourning at her old state—a rare and intimate sight. Dench muses, “When you look at those great statues of Victoria, she does seem indomitable. With this story, we now learn about Victoria’s vulnerability.”

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Visualizing the grandeur of a bygone era

But, of course, the pageantry and grandiosity of royal life is very much alive in the movie. Moviegoers will be delighted to see the art of royal etiquette in full practice, while sequences shot in Queen Victoria’s real-life royal estates lend a hand in recreating the bygone grandeur of the Raj era.


Food plays an important part with the many banquets and engagements featured in the film, with Victoria & Abdul food stylist Katharine Tidy confiding, “Sometimes the food is edible and sometimes it’s just display. There’s a lot of documentation of the Victorian period, so we were able to refer to menus.”


While the work of Oscar-nominated costume designer Consolata Boyle helped seal everything in place. Boyle explored the mindset of 19th-century tailors and crossed traditional English garb with Indian finery. Boyle remarks, “When you’re telling a story that goes back in time, you have to satisfy people’s expectations–do your research–and once you’ve done that then you can fly. Within parameters, you can use your imagination.


Starting with the dark Victorian era, Boyle transitioned the costumes along with the story’s shift with the incorporation of lighter and grander costumes. About hundreds of costumes were made, with Boyle looking to historical records for the smallest of details. For Karim, Boyle looked to a turban specialist who taught the cast everything they needed to know about turban-wrapping.


Ali Fazal notes, “For me, costuming is critical; it is the backbone of my character. If they get my costume right, I’m sorted, I’m done; half my battle’s won. Something [executive producer] Lee Hall had worked into the script was how you see the growth of the characters through the growth of the costumes, even though the characters are almost out of time or in a fantastical land.”


 A glimpse into the real Osborne House

The production teams greatest feat was securing a permit to shoot at the Osborne House. Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim’s adventures lived through the famed summer home. Situated on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House was the Queen’s holiday home where she spent some of her best years with Prince Albert and was greatly believed to be the royal’s favorite home. The house was acquired a couple of years after the two were married and was done in a grand Italian style overseen by Prince Albert himself.

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Coming full circle, the royal residence houses most of the evidence of Queen Victoria and Abdul’s years. It was also the place where Shrabani Basu, the author of the book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant, uncovered the true story behind the movie. Supervising location manager Adam Richards reports, “We were the first big-scale feature to film in the house, and we were very lucky that English Heritage [which looks after Osborne] was open to our filming there. It’s what Stephen really wanted, since Osborne has its own style and essential authenticity.”

Appreciating how to live in the moment

Perhaps one of the film’s greatest lessons is Abdul’s openness towards life’s adventures. Fighting through the time’s prejudices, Queen Victoria and Abdul overcame race, religion, power and embarked on a historical friendship.


Director Stephen Frears on set with Judi Dench and Ali Fazal

Stephen Frears notes, “Abdul certainly prefers to look on the sunny side. He’s embracing an adventure where there are no problems in sight.”

Victoria & Abdul opens Wednesday, October 4 at the following Ayala Malls Cinemas: Alabang Town Center, Bonifacio High Street, Greenbelt 3, The 30th, TriNoma, UP Town Center, and Ayala Center Cebu.

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Paolo Chua
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