“Victoria and Abdul” tells the true story of the friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), with whom she developed a close bond, making him her “munshi,” or teacher. According to Fazal, their ability to love each other across a cultural divide is an important lesson for modern audiences. “These two people meet in the middle of that and share this respect and love. I hope that people see that. We’ve tried war and politics for over 100 years and it hasn’t gotten this very far,” he said in our exclusive video chat (watch above). “The costumes have changed but not much else. There is still racism, except I think it was far more straightforward back then: ‘You’re Indian, you’re Muslim — get out.'”
The film is especially meaningful in this era marked by racism, nationalism, and tribalism. “We’ve had one man walk in and say, ‘I’m going to annihilate the entire country if we feel threatened,’ go to war with Iran or North Korea. It’s preposterous. It’s sad that that’s what humanity has come to,” Fazal explains. “It’s so cliche to use words like love and hope now — even coming out of my mouth I feel, am I allowed to say it? Because it’s been used and abused, but that’s essentially what it is.”
Developing that relationship between Victoria and Abdul on screen was challenging because “there’s so little information on Abdul Karim” — the diaries revealing the extent of their relationship only surfaced in the last decade. “It’s almost like Chinese whispers: you don’t know what to rely on, so you rely on something that’s honest I guess. I tried to find that with Judi and the relationship we shared … There’s something very romantic about it, and yet very maternal, and yet a relationship that a teacher and a student would share … I think I found myself flirting with her many times and looking up to her at the same time.”
Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name stars can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.