The story that the British monarchy tried to erase, and although it remained hidden for a time, was discovered by a journalist who made it public through a book in 2010. It now hits theaters on November 9.
By: Jazmín Gómez Fleitas
Photos: Courtesy Filmagic
Victoria and Abdul tells the true story of an extraordinary friendship between Queen Victoria (played by Judi Dench) and a young secretary, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal – Fast and Furious 7), who became her teacher and friend. In 1887, Abdul travels from India to present a ceremonial medal as part of the celebrations for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and surprisingly finds favor with her.
From there, an unprecedented friendship arises as well as the cause of an internal battle in the royal house, which pits the Queen against the court and her family. According to its director, Stephen Frears (The Queen), the film humorously explores issues such as race, power and the farce of an Empire through the unusual prism of this deep friendship.
To put us in historical context, Queen Victoria ascended the throne at age 18, and at 21, she married her cousin, the handsome Albert of Saxe-Coburg. They had nine children – five girls and four boys – and a total of 42 grandchildren. Due to this, Victoria is called “The grandmother of Europe”, because she had blood ties with the European royal families.
She held the longest period of reign (63 years, 7 months and 2 days) until she was ousted by her great-great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who has been reigning for 65 years today. Historians maintain that Queen Victoria was a fairly controlling mother, who did not have a good relationship with her children but had a true love story with Alberto. And if you remember, it was taken to the cinema by Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria (2009).
When Alberto died in 1861, presumably from typhoid fever, the Queen was devastated. Her pain is such that she mourns the rest of her life and in the years following her husband’s death, she avoids public appearances as well as trips to London. His withdrawal earned him the nickname “Widow of Windsor.”
This situation caused her popularity to decline, so the Palace devised a plan to help her resume her public life. They sought out one of the trusted servants of the recently deceased consort of the Queen, to help her ease her pain. This employee was the Scotsman John Brown, of whom there is evidence, he was a very close figure to the Queen, a companion who was by her side from the 1860s until his death in 1883. So many were the rumors about it, that it remains a subject of controversy to this day.
This story was brought to the big screen under the name of Mrs. Brown (His Majesty, Mrs. Brown in Spanish, 1997). Mrs. Brown’s nickname hints at suspicions that the Queen and Brown had crossed the limits of friendship and perhaps even secretly married. In the role of the Queen, there was the English actress Judi Dench – who a year later would win the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (1998) – and who now reprises her role in this new part of the Queen’s history.
The story is revealed
Four years after the death of John Brown, the Queen – at 68 years old – celebrates her Golden Jubilee, the starting point of this story that journalist Shrabani Basu discovered. In 2001, Shrabani was in London researching for a book on the history of curry, knowing that Queen Victoria enjoyed eating it. Basu visited Osborne House, the Queen’s residence on the Isle of Wight, but there she was more intrigued by two portraits and a bronze bust of a majestic Indian man.
In the Queen’s dressing room he again found another portrait with a photograph of that Indian man, right next to Victoria’s beloved John Brown. On a larger scale, the Durbar room of the house was crammed with treasures from India, which were a monument to Victoria’s fascination towards “the jewel in the crown”, as even though she was the Empress of India , never visited her for security reasons.
In 2006 Basu visited Balmoral, the Queen’s castle in the Scottish Highlands, where he saw Karim Cottage, the house that Victoria had built for Abdul. She understood that there was a mysterious importance surrounding this Indian man known as Munshi (teacher) and took the challenge to find out what it was.
Bertie, the Queen’s son – who would later become King Edward VII – had destroyed all correspondence between his mother and Munshi to leave no trace of that friendship. But he had not touched his diaries written in Hundustani or Hindustani (languages spoken in the northern, central and northwestern regions of the Indian continent, mostly Hindu and Urdu). It is in these 13 volumes that Basu discovers the story of the Queen and the Munshi, Abdul Karim.
The diaries, which were written in the handwriting of Queen Victoria, were forgotten in the royal archive, cut off from all Western versions of the story because none of the historians could read Urdu. On the other hand, Abdul never had children – he married and lived together with his wife in the house that the Queen had given them until after his death, they were ordered to return to India – and Shrabani could not find any of their children. relatives, until one of them contacted her after the first edition of the book.
A great-nephew of Abdul, provided him with the original diaries that Abdul had begun to write in 1887, when he was summoned to serve at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. “There is a line in the newspapers that says ‘Whoever gets this into their hands, I hope they like the story.’ And after a hundred years that story fell into my hands,” Basu said excitedly in an interview.
The details captivated this Calcutta-born reporter, who had moved to London in 1987. “Abdul was 24 years old when he was sent from India to the UK. He caught the attention of the Queen and was quickly promoted. Extra English lessons They were arranged so that he could converse more easily. He gave her Urdu lessons every afternoon. He read to the poet Ghalib and the two became inseparable. A young foreigner who becomes the faithful company of one of the most ancient monarchs. powerful. Of course not everyone liked this, “explains Basu. Thus, in 2011 the second edition of Victoria & Abdul: The True History of the Queen’s Closest Confident was published.
It was producer Beban Kidron, who, reading the newspaper, came across an article about the book and was immediately captivated. He spoke with the screenwriter Lee Hall, who was responsible for the script for Billy Elliot (2000) and they agreed to arrange a meeting with the writer Shrabani. From there, the rest is the movie. As director Stephen Frears (Oscar nominee for The Queen) and Thomas Newman, in charge of music (who has six Gammy Awards and 14 Oscar nominations) took over.
Judi Dench agreed to replay Queen Victoria at another stage in her life, having done Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown. “I don’t even think about whether I ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ the character when I accept. I try to relate in the most human and honest way possible, so that people can understand who I am impersonating. Abdul was like an injection of youth and enthusiasm for Victoria. I could enjoy a conversation in which I also learned about languages or culture. It was like a blood transfusion at that time, “he said.
And in the role of Abdul, actor Ali Fazal, who made his Hollywood debut in Fast and Furious 7. “As for whether the relationship was physical, well, holding hands then it was a big event. This was a relationship. unique, which was much more about intimacy and trust, than the physical component, “said the actor.
The writer mentions in this regard: “Abdul spoke to her as to a human being and not as to the queen. Everyone else kept their distance from her, even her own children, and this young Indian came with innocence. He spoke to her about India, her family and was there to listen to her when she complained about her own family. “