Twenty years after her portrayal of Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, Dame Judi Dench today returns to our screens in a sequel of sorts, depicting her relationship with Indian servant Abdul Karim. Stand-up-comedian Eddie Izzard plays her son, Bertie – remembered as a womaniser, trouble-maker and the thorn in Victoria’s side. To her devoted attendant, he took even less of a liking.
Was there a reason Bertie hated Abdul with such a passion?
EI: This guy knows he’s going to be King, so he’s waiting for his mum to die. She was eating herself to death, with no bowel movements. Then she started taking an interest in Abdul Karim. He probably gave her an extra ten years of life. Some of that you can just see – if she’s got a reason to live, with this gentleman that has a striking look, and she’s learning Urdu from him, you can feel its power on her.
You could say racism definitely had a large slice of this, but I just think it didn’t matter for this guy. He could have been Welsh, Chinese, Venezuelan, white skin, blue skin, green skin – Abdul was just someone in the way giving this person ahead of him in the line a reason to keep on living.
Why was Bertie’s relationship with his mother so strained?
EI: She could have been his school headmistress. There is no love there. They disliked or even hated each other. At some points it could be toleration. In the film, Victoria says Bertie is an “embarrassment”. He was just having sex with various women, and even set them up in houses. He had huge debts, as well. He was irresponsible, and she [Victoria] was like a child. Monarchy encourages childish behaviour.
There’s only two times Victoria and Bertie ever had a connection: once when he almost died in his midlife, and once when she actually died. It is documented that she actually called for him and they did have 20 minutes of connecting, but it was too late for anything. What a waste of human life.
How do you hope people will react to the film?
EI: This is a story of love across great divides. The legacy is for the world because it is a time of Brexit, Trump, and hate. Hate crime is up 106 per cent. But this is a story of love. Obviously Abdul Karim knew that he was going to get preferment by being nice and friendly, and in turn Victoria was desperate for someone. These are fallible people. But the way Judi [Dench] brings it to the screen, the way Ali Fazal [Abdul] brings it to the screen, it’s beautiful.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch and after having two screenings with big audiences, I feel people are moved, in a way. It’s illuminated a whole side of her life you wouldn’t think of. It’s Romeo and Juliet (without any sexual relations, because the age difference is too huge) but it is love across great divides.
Victoria & Abdul is in cinemas now.