Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Victoria & Abdul
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Lee Hall
Based on: Shrabani Basu’s book
Cast: Judi DenchAli FazalTim Pigott-SmithEddie IzzardAdeel AkhtarMichael GambonPaul HigginsOlivia WilliamsFenella WoolgarJulian WadhamRobin SoansRuth McCabeSimon Callow
Seen on: 14.10.2017

As Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) celebrates the 50th year of her reign, two Muslim Indians are chosen to present her with a commemorative coin. One of them is Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Abdul is excited at the chance to visit England and see the Queen, and in his excitement he forgets the most important rule and makes eye-contact with her. Instead of catastrophe, this leads to Victoria striking up a friendship with Abdul who teaches her about India and much more.

Victoria & Abdul left me deeply uncomfortable and its blatant ignorance of colonialism and the power structures involved – despite the topic at hand. That overshadowed everything else for me.

On a technical level, if you want to make that separation, Victoria & Abdul is a good film. Both Judi Dench and Ali Fazal are fantastic in their roles and make their characters work. The supporting cast is awesome (with a special mention of Eddie Izzard as Prince Albert). The film looks amazing and the costumes alone are to die for.

But all of these things pale in comparison to the narrative approach that is simply steeped in whiteness. It’s not just that the film really does everything to gloss over the power imbalance between Victoria and Abdul that arguably made any real friendship between them quite impossible.

No, the film realizes so little what it’s doing that it literally ends with good, loyal Abdul kissing the feet of a statue of Victoria in a scene that reminded me of those stories where dogs go to their owner’s grave every day and wait there. And that is just not an image that should be conjured up in this context of colonialism and racism.

I was so uncomfortable, I was physically cringing in my seat. I can only imagine how an Indian person must feel watching this film or what the film would have looked like if it hadn’t been made from a white point of view. As is, it was insufferable.

Summarizing: There’s no other word for it: this film is racist as fuck.

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