Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as royalty in the film "Victoria & Abdul" which debuted on the international film festival scene earlier this year. The film follows Queen Victoria in the decade prior to her death, seemingly bored and unenthused by the royal circles and etiquette she must maintain late in her long life. This all changes when a young man named Abdul Karim is brought from the newly colonized India to serve as a gift for the Diamond Jubilee tour.

Karim's enthusiasm for adventure leads to him striking up a friendship with the Queen despite breaking such royal etiquette as making eye contact with and speaking directly to the monarch.

But his joy of life is palpable to both the audience and the Queen as he proceeds to rise in the ranks, serving Victoria as a teacher and advisor on Indian affairs and culture. All of this is done at the great disbelief and shock of the royal household, namely her son and heir Bertie (later King Edward VII).

An unlikely friendship

It seems absurd that someone from a conquered nation who has been summoned across the globe to be a servant to the conquering nation would strike up a close friendship with the conqueror. But this is exactly what happens between Victoria and Abdul.

Abdul has a great appreciation for Victoria and is in awe of her Majesty. Victoria, in turn, finds a renewed sense of life and interest by the stories Abdul tells her of his far away land.

His teachings on India provide not only a much needed and welcomed break to the monotony of royal life but also an education on a new part of her empire. But her son is not amused, seemingly desperate for her to die so he can reign, even attempting to declare her unfit to rule. As one of the most famous queens in history, it is tragic to see such a strong woman have to fight back the young male vultures after a lifetime of successful service.

‘Based on true events…mostly’…mostly?!

The film also provides a glimpse into the royal circles and their strict guidelines, some of which are still in place today. Early on in the film, the Queen is hosting a dinner with a number of well-dressed guests but she seems utterly bored throughout. As she quickly finishes each course in the meal, everyone’s plate is whisked away which is a royal rule: once the Queen is done eating, so is everyone else.

But what about the truth about the relationship between Victoria and Abdul? It is clear that this friendship did exist as the film is based on a book which drew from research into Abdul’s personal journals. Abdul did in fact become a close confidant to the Queen and returned to India upon her death in 1901 after a decade of service to her Majesty.

There is also a room dedicated to Indian heritage, referred to as the Durbar Room, in the Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, one of the residences of Victoria and her husband Albert, which lends even more credibility to the storyline. It’s also entirely believable that in 19th century England, both royal and common subjects would have been appalled at the idea of a commoner, let alone an Indian Muslim commoner, becoming so close to the Queen and running in their very protected inner circle. All in all, this film leaves the audience rooting for understanding and friendship despite all obstacles placed in their way.