Victoria & Abdul is the true story of an unexpected friendship between Queen Victoria and a young clerk, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who travels from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. The two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to destroy.
With the film set for release in India on October 13, here are excerpts of an interview with Judi Dench:
Tell us about the friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim…
She had lost her husband, Albert, and had formed a great friendship with John Brown. And then John Brown died and I think she must have missed someone she could relax with, someone she could speak to freely without all the formality of the court.
How would you describe her relationship with Abdul?
I suppose it was admiration, and at the same time, she liked his gentleness. I think there was a spiritual side to it as well, in that she was anxious to learn about the Koran and wanted to learn Urdu. And if you look at Ali, you really wouldn’t mind having a person like him around (laughs).
How surprised were you when you read about the story of Victoria & Abdul?
Very surprised indeed, and kind of pleased for her. It’s amazing that she found that she could talk to on an almost even basis. She wasn’t like that with any of the children, so it must have been a very complex relationship of feeling great love for Abdul and also feeling like a mother towards him.
It seems from the film that before they meet, she is lonely and tired, and he kind of brings her back to life. Did their friendship extend her life, you think?
I’m sure it did! I’m certain about it. When you’re excited, interested, or have an appetite for something, it’s reconstituting. It gives you energy.
How do you feel about Ali Fazal?
He’s like an understudy, I think, to Johnny Depp—younger (laughs). He’s a beautiful boy—very gentle and very intelligent. He’s got a great sense of humour too.