31 January 2018



'The key to good service is standing still and walking backwards.'

'I will be courteous to the Munshi.'

'Oh look, it's Ali Baba...!'

The Queen's Doctor: 'Your Majesty, the man has gonorrhea!'
The Queen: 'Well, you're the doctor, why don't you cure him?'

Oh wow, we absolutely adored this lavish period drama about the relationship between Queen Vic and an Indian male who came into her life almost by chance. If he'd been shorter, he mightn't have been chosen for the errand that brought him into the Queen's presence and to her royal attention, lol.

You'll have to watch the film to understand what we mean by that last bit, by the way. Oh, and we are using the royal 'we,' of course, to denote our exalted status, so do please try to keep up. We haven't got all day, you know. Our time is infinitely precious...!

So, Queen Victoria, magnificently played by former Bond Girl Judi Dench, is celebrating her Golden Jubilee in 1887 and, as part of these celebrations, a humble clerk from India has come all the way across the world to present her with a special commemorative gold coin. She's the Empress of India, after all, as it was Ye Olde Colonial Times.

Victoria immediately warmed to this lowly clerk, Abdul Karim, probably because he was warm and cordial to her and treated her like a real person with feelings and interests and thoughts and opinions. He even dared to make eye contact with her, which was forbidden, and touch her (even more verboten!) and chat away naturally and unabashedly to her as if they were chums.

Unlike her minions and toadies, it must be said, who controlled her every waking move while keeping their distance from her as a person. To them, she wasn't a person but a monarch and, I assume, also The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs. She was an employer of many, of that there's no doubt. They all lived very well indeed under her rule.

The courtiers and her son Bertie, wonderfully played by Eddie Izzard, all loathed Abdul and hated the way that the Queen kept favouring him, lavishing him with gifts and honours and appointing him as her 'Munshi' or teacher of all things Indian, such as the language of Urdu and the teachings of the Koran, which apparently he knew by heart.

Nothing could dim the Queen's high opinions of Abdul. Temporarily shaken by the knowledge that her handsome protegê had a wife back in India that he'd never thought to mention, she nevertheless allowed Abdul to bring his wife over to England and she installed the couple in a fabulous cottage on the palace grounds. She didn't even mind that Abdul had brought his mother-in-law, robed head-to-toe in black, along for the ride.

My honest opinion of the relationship is this. They probably didn't sleep together, Vicky and Abdul, even though Victoria had been heard to remark publicly about how Abdul's handsomeness wasn't lost on her. It wasn't lost on the lady courtiers either, lol. She noticed his striking good looks all right and was undoubtedly attracted to him.

Victoria was just desperately lonely though, that's all. Her beloved Prince Albert and her Scottish confidante, John Brown, were both dead. She missed congenial male company, which is perfectly understandable, and Abdul was more than happy to provide it, especially as he profited greatly by it.

She had maternal feelings towards him too, as we know from the way she signed herself 'your loving mother' in some of her letters, but she was flattered by his attentions also. What elderly lady wouldn't be flattered by the constant attentions of an attractive young man? 

I honestly believe that there was nothing sleazy or improper to their relationship. And when I'm that age and, hopefully, possessed of a few quid, I fully intend to do exactly the same thing and pay a handsome younger man to hang out with me and 'comfort' me in my twilight years. So there, lol. Here's to growing old disgracefully. (I'm raising an imaginary glass over here...!)

This is Judi Dench's second outing as Queen Victoria, as she played the miniscule monarch in MRS. BROWN also, the story of the Queen's relationship with John Brown, played by the Scottish comedian and travel writer Billy Connolly. 

If the details of any other relationships of Queen Vicky's are to be unearthed, I certainly hope that it's in Dame Judi's lifetime, so that she can play the Queen again. Three times a Queen would certainly be a record of some sort, wouldn't it?

Anyway, the film is gorgeous to look at. The costumes and settings are utterly exquisite. I have no complaints there. The film starts out as a kind of delicious royal rom-com but then becomes more serious as the Queen's courtiers do their best to discredit Abdul and get the Queen to send him packing back to India.

Victoria resists all their vicious attempts to destroy her loyal Munshi, even dismissing the news that he's, ahem, riddled with venereal disease, which in those days could kill you. I wonder where he picked that up? The film alludes to it but doesn't really explain it, an omission I found a tiny bit strange. After all, if they were implying something negative about Abdul's morality, why didn't they just come right out and say it?

Anyway, the Munshi had better watch himself when the old Queen dies, as she surely will some day. He has a lot of enemies at Court and, without the Queen's protection, the dogs will be baying for his blood. Their racial and social prejudices were obvious but not entirely unexpected, given the era. The ending is sad, very sad. Definitely a three-tissue job...!

The film, which is in the shops now, will probably annoy people who disagree with Kings and Queens being elevated far, far above the Great Unwashed. I mean, the Queen was physically lifted from her bed in the morning by servants to save her the trouble of doing it herself, even though she was still perfectly capable of doing it herself, now that bit was shocking.

And all that stuff about not making eye contact with the Superior Being and shuffling submissively backwards out of their presence is just utter bullshit, isn't it? Monarchs are just ordinary people like you and me. They put their trousers on one leg at a time too and use the potty just like the rest of us. They should therefore be treated normally, shouldn't they?

Is the film patronising to India and the Indians, who were at that time still all under British rule? (Indian independence didn't come until 1947, nearly a half-a-decade after Vicky's demise.) It probably is a bit patronising. The character Mohammed has a few choice words to say on the subject of British rule, so check those out. I think he more or less sums the whole thing up!

I loved the film, anyway, complicated colonial politics notwithstanding. I adored the pomp and ceremony, the outrageous luxury and lavishness and the opulence of the fabulous settings. I loved the costumes, the gardens, the houses and even the servant boy whose job it was to race through the corridors of the palace screeching the word 'Soup!' over and over. That bit was hilarious but also kind of shocking. How the other half lives, what? 

The Scottish picnic scene in the lashing rain and freezing cold is very funny also, especially when a soaked and frozen Scottish member of the Queen's party is heard to bellow, loudly and miserably: 'I fucking hate Scotland...!'

Most of all though, I loved watching the relationship developing between a lonely old woman, deprived of her humanity by her role as Queen to three billion subjects worldwide, and a personable young man from an exotic land of vivid colours, strange noises and earthy smells who could make her remember for a blissful moment or two that she was a person first and Queen second. Will I watch it again? Yes, definitely. It's a keeper.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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