We’re pretty sure you’ve probably heard of Victoria and Albert, but it’s less likely that you’ll have seen the names ‘Victoria and Abdul’ paired together in the history books. Now, the once hidden story of the famous queen and her Indian friend and teacher is being brought to life on the silver screen this September.
Starring British acting treasure Judi Dench and Bollywood star Ali Fazal as the titular characters, Victoria & Abdul is a new feature film portraying the true events of the friendship between the ageing British monarch and Abdul Karim, a young clerk from India; it was a relationship which shook the royal household at the time.
Which Scottish places played a part in the story?
For those of you who know their history, you’ll be aware of Queen Victoria’s many connections to Scotland. It’s no surprise that Queen Victoria and Abdul spent time in the Highlands and Aberdeenshire, a part of Scotland cherished by the queen.
‘Ali is marvellous in these scenes; we see on Abdul’s face when he views the Highlands landscape for the first time how delighted and amazed he is,’ reveals the film’s screenwriter Lee Hall. ‘How rare that journey would have been then, and how extraordinary to have made it in the company of the Queen.’
Highland locations in Victoria & Abdul include Glen Affric in the north-west part of the Cairngorms National Park and, in the south-west corner of the park, the stunning and wild Glenfeshie. It was amidst landscapes like these where Victoria had something of an epiphany.
As Hall explains, ‘this is the moment where Victoria realizes that [Abdul] has much to teach her, including about the Koran. She’s in despair about her life, and he offers her a little bit of hope, so she declares that he will be her Munshi; Abdul goes up into the Highlands as a servant and he comes down as the Queen’s teacher. It’s not long into their relationship, but it defines what follows.’
For actor Fazal, this project marked his first visit to Scotland, and he, like the character he portrayed, was also very taken by the Scottish landscapes. Of Glen Affric, he said, ‘It’s just so beautiful […], it just keeps changing, the terrain. I definitely want to go back.’
Balmoral Castle is also depicted in the film. This Aberdeenshire castle was the beloved royal residence of Queen Victoria, purchased for her by her husband Prince Albert, and today it is still the Scottish home of the Royal Family. In its grounds lies Karim Cottage, the house that she had built for Abdul. Like a number of cottages on the estate, it has now been converted into a self-catering property.
Are there any other on-screen locations that Queen Victoria loved?
The breathtaking landscape of Ardverikie Estate is located in the Cairngorms National Park. It was here that Queen Victoria actually spent three weeks in the late summer of 1847, residing in the baronial mansion with her consort. This estate was featured in the 1997 film Mrs Brown, where Judi Dench also played Queen Victoria, while Billy Connolly took the part of John Brown, her Scottish servant.
Currently on television screens every Sunday night is the second series of ITV historical drama Victoria, where in episode seven viewers can see Blair Castle in Highland Perthshire. Starring Jenna Coleman, the programme looks at the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, during which she was known to have visited this enchanting castle, situated near the village of Blair Atholl.
Can I follow in Queen Victoria’s footsteps?
You can explore the many places that were adored by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, by followings the Victorian Heritage Trail through the Dee and Don Valleys in north east Scotland. In the high season, enjoy a nostalgic steam train ride on the Royal Deeside Railway, a railway track the royal used herself on her visits.
As well as visits to plenty of castles and country estates, you can also take a tour of Royal Lochnagar Distillery. Also located on the Victorian Heritage Trail, this distillery is where Queen Victoria was so impressed that she instated it with a ‘By Royal Appointment’ warrant.
Now one of the most photographed areas in Scotland is the postcard-picturesque scenery of the views over Loch Tummel in Highland Perthshire from the point know as Queen’s View, allegedly named after Queen Victoria after she visited the area in 1866.
And as it’s the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, there really is no better time than now to discover these special places with historic royal connections.
When is the film released in the cinema?
Victoria & Abdul is distributed by Focus Features. Watch the trailer now and see it in cinemas in the UK from 15 September.
Discover more about Scottish film and TV locations and plan a spot of set-jetting around Scotland for yourself.