The basis for Stephen Frears’ historical drama Victoria & Abdul is Shrabani Basu’s book of the same name. It stemmed, most improbably, from a side project in which the author was investigating the history of curries — something she relayed at Deadline’s inaugural The Contenders London. “I knew that Queen Victoria liked her curries, and she had some Indian servants, but it was only on a trip to the Isle of Wight, to the Osborne house” that the author understood the true nature of the Queen’s relationship with one servant in particular, Abdul Karim.
“There’s this Indian corridor there, and there was a portrait of Abdul Karim in red and gold and cream, and he’s holding a book,” Basu recalled. “It struck me that he hadn’t been painted like a servant—he looked more like a nobleman—and that sort of aroused my curiosity.”
Starring Judi Dench in her second take on Queen Victoria following 1997’s Mrs. Brown, and Ali Fazal as Karim, Frears’ comedic drama depicts the unlikely friendship that blossoms between the two, despite their differences in age and status.
Ultimately, per cinematographer Danny Cohen, the production was allowed to film in the historic Osborne House, something that had never before been permitted to any other crew. But be careful what you wish for: “It was a nightmare,” Cohen joked. “They wouldn’t let us put up any lights, and to move anything, you had to get the permission of three people, and some curators would come in with white gloves and might move it two feet to the left.”
For more of their conversation with Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione, check out the video above.