Victoria & Abdul is a movie that showcases the relationship (intimate, but platonic) between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant, Abdul.
However, that has a lot of people wondering about the film’s accuracy. Is the movie a true story? Is it real? Did Queen Victoria really have a servant named Abdul?
Yes, Abdul was real, and the movie is based on a true story. In fact, the real Queen Victoria once said of the real Abdul Karim, “I am so very fond of him. He is so good and gentle and understanding… and is a real comfort to me.” As of September 25, the movie has started playing in New York and Los Angeles and was expanding throughout the U.S. to other cities on September 29.
Here’s what you need to know:
Abdul Karim Was Real & the Relationship Was Controversial
Yes, Queen Victoria really did have a controversial and scandalous relationship with a servant named Abdul – Abdul Karim. According to Vanity Fair, “the relationship between Queen Victoria and her handsome, young Indian attendant Abdul Karim was deemed so controversial and scandalous by her family members that, upon the monarch’s death in 1901, they scrubbed his existence from royal history.”
Queen Victoria considered Karim her “closest confidante,” according to Vanity Fair, which reported, “According to historians, Victoria’s family and staff members exhibited prejudice of the racial and social variety, which compounded with jealousy as Victoria became closer with Karim and afforded him privileges including traveling with her through Europe; titles; honors; prime seats at operas and banquets; a private carriage; and personal gifts.”
Abdul Was a ‘Gift From India’ for Victoria & Their Relationship Covered 14 Years
The Smithsonian reports that Abdul “arrived in the United Kingdom as a ‘gift from India,’ one intended to help Victoria address the Indian princes at her banquet. Karim would quickly prove to be the queen’s most trusted confidant, and the most despised member of the royal court.”
The Smithsonian notes that “Queen Victoria’s unusually close friendship with her Indian servant began at the 1887 celebration and spanned 14 years, a period captured in the new movie Victoria & Abdul, starring Judi Dench as the titular queen.” A historian named Shrabani Basu uncovered the relationship, reports the Smithsonian.
Abdul Was Victoria’s ‘Munshi’ but the Queen’s Attention Made Others Jealous
The 24-year-old Karim “was described by Queen Victoria as ‘tall with fine serious countenance’. Originally a clerk in Agra, he soon became a favourite with Queen Victoria and she promoted him to be her native language teacher, known as a Munshi, teaching her Hindustani,” reports the site Bl.UK. “He was given titles, land and cottages in royal estates. Victoria also had his portrait painted. This attention displeased the royal household, leading to several intrigues maligning his character.”
You can see a photo of the real Abdul here. The site notes, “after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, Karim was given a pension, sent back to India and his papers were destroyed. He died in 1909.”
According to The Telegraph, the queen was lonely when she met Abdul; her husband, Albert, died in 1861 and “John Brown, her loyal Scottish ghillie, who in many ways filled the void left by Albert” had died in 1883.
Records of the Relationship Between Victoria & Abdul Were Really Destroyed
“Such was the ill-feeling that when Victoria died, her son King Edward ordered all records of their relationship, including correspondence and photographs, to be destroyed,” UK Telegraph reports.
According to the Telegraph, the historian Basu, when writing a book on the relationship, discovered Abdul’s diary in India, which was in the care of an aged relative.
That allowed the author to understand the relationship from Karim’s perspective. “Karim initially moved to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee – the Queen wanted two Indian waiters there to attend to the Indian princes who would be present. Victoria was instantly charmed by the tall, elegant Karim, and within a year he had transcended from waiting tables to becoming a powerful figure within the royal court,” Telegraph reports.
Abdul & His Wife Were Given Cottages on Victoria’s Estates & He Introduced Curry to Her
The Telegraph reports that “Karim introduced curry to the royal menu and started teaching her to speak Urdu” but was homesick. “Karim traveled everywhere with the Queen…The Queen allowed him to move his wife over to England, and the couple were given their own cottage on each of her estates,” according to UK Telegraph.