I recently watched Victoria and Abdul – what a moving film, for many reasons. The elderly queen was lonely, depressed and wanted someone to treat her as a friend, not just a monarch. I know Victoria had a controlling, cold mother, and lost her father at a young age. She was moulded to be a monarch, as her uncle (William IV) was childless. She was, by many accounts a passionate woman, but unstable (as were many in her family). When her adored husband died young Victoria never got over it, but as she aged and times changed she became more and more separated from her people, and a stable, happy life. In her last few years a young, handsome Indian gentleman became her friend and mentor. This was NOT popular at court. He was a commoner, he was Indian and he was a Muslim. None of which were deemed suitable for the Queen. Victoria, basically, told her family to mind their own business – she liked Abdul Karim – he made her happy and made her laugh. He taught her Urdu, a liking for curry and some Indian history (albeit a little embellished).
Victoria accused the household of racism – which was probably a well-founded accusation at the time. The servants took umbrage that this ‘coloured’ servant was receiving favours and honours above the white household.
The British behaviour in India – that’s another story entirely – but there were some rather despicable practices, and attitudes happening.
When the Queen died Mr Karim was packed off back to India in all haste, and everything connected to his life and friendship with the Queen destroyed. (Except his own diaries.)
Judi Dench was fantastic as Victoria and, surrounded by a notable cast, really brought home the loneliness and separateness the monarch had then. She was a lonely old woman, with no real friends, and he was a clever young man who wanted to please this woman he revered. It was an unlikely friendship but for that it was special. Despite the class, racial, religious, and age difference two people found companionship. For over a decade they remained close, despite the family and household’s best efforts.
Queen Victoria is often seen as the epitome of staid and upright morality – and to an extent she was – or her name was. But she was still a woman and a woman who needed company. Much of her life was unhappy, marred by duty and service and influenced by grief.
I heartily recommend this film and further research on this extraordinary friendship.