The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan’s review of “Victoria & Abdul,” click here.
“Victoria & Abdul” is a cheerful little lark about how friendship can bridge cultures. It’s also hugely problematic.
The movie is based on a true story about Queen Victoria that wasn’t even told until 2010, when journalist Shrabani Basu published “Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant.” Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) is lonely, sad and tired. After meeting Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who was chosen to present her with a ceremonial coin because he was tall, she appoints him to a position in her household, eventually elevating him to “Munshi and Indian Clerk to the Queen Empress” (“munshi” is a Persian and Urdu word meaning either “secretary” or “language teacher”). He teaches the empress of India about the Koran and instructs her in Urdu, and the two become close. Upon Victoria’s death in 1901, a group of royals evict Abdul and his family from their house on the grounds of Windsor Castle, burn letters from the queen and set about erasing Abdul from existence.