Victoria and Abdul is the story of the meeting and friendship of an elderly Queen Victoria of England and a young and handsome Abdul from Agra, India, who happened to visit the royal court on an official state visit to present a nondescript gift to Victoria from the colonial government of India.
The story is told from the points of view of Victoria and Abdul. The story emerges from their relationship. There are many complexities to the story, such as the imperialistic tendencies of the British empire, white racial dominance, and power seeking sycophants at the royal court. Sound familiar?
In its telling, the intention is to distill the aspects of the experience that are important to the characters and express them in human terms that we can understand, for our benefit. Many of the scenes are humorous, but real.
It is tempting to see the race relations and power structure portrayed in the movie in today’s popular terms, but only doing that limits the impact of the experience of the movie. Those things are secondary in importance at best, though that seems to be mostly what the critics are hung up on and all they can talk about.
We, the audience, are not objective observers of a drama played out in a certain (maybe familiar) context. We can actually share the characters’ experience if we allow the suspension of disbelief and merge with them. What they see, feel and know is what we see, feel and know. That is the virtue of how the movie is crafted.
We don’t emerge from the movie loving Victoria and Abdul. We do love the love these characters found as it resonates in us. After the movie we can go on with great satisfaction having had that experience, just as Abdul suggests to Victoria for her final journey as he recites Rumi’s poem.