Adeel Akhtar and Fenella Woolgar Talk About Working On Victoria & Abdul
"I knew very little. I learned some during filming and learned even more in discussions afterward." Stated Adeel Akhtar (The Big Sick) who plays Mohammed in the film. Fenella Woolgar (Miss Phipps; Home Fires) admits. " I had to Google it. I knew nothing at all." The movie seems to be educating a whole generation of people; myself included. As they get ready for the Blu-ray/DVD release, I was able to speak with both Akhtar and Woolgar about the cast and the production.
Both weighed in on their feelings about Abdul and his intentions. "Whose motivations are noble all the time?", questioned Woolgar. "[They] were probably a mixture of both." As the film depicts, Abdul seemed to come to England with an open heart but also manipulated the Queen to some extent, similar to most of the people around her. He spent fifteen years as her confidant, much to the dismay of her children and her staff and, in the end, The Queen gave Abdul a certain amount of wealth and land in India, again, causing speculation that he manipulated her.
The two actors also had plenty to say about Dame Judi Dench and Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity). " He (Frears) has a good sense of humor and being on set never felt ‘weighted'", stated Akhtar. Woolgar agreed, " I loved working with [Stephen]. He was hilarious, very funny but he is a master of what he does."
Woolgar also gushed about Dench, saying, "She is the Queen of our profession. It was delightful and a privilege to work with her". Meanwhile, Akhtar joked that he expected to be endowed with some great wisdom from both Dench and Frears but that didn't happen.
Both Woolgar and Akhtar also had pivotal scenes in the movie. Mohammed's came when he was asked to betray Abdul in order to get something he desperately wanted - to go home. "He held on to his integrity which says a lot about him", Akhtar explains. Woolgar, meanwhile, had to confront the Queen as Miss Phipps and tell her the staff was thinking of quitting if The Queen knights Abdul.
While the film is based on truth, there is a certain amount of fiction to it and I can't help but wonder what the real story might be. Unfortunately, her son destroyed much of the Queen's correspondence with Abdul, so we will never know. Luckily, Frears brings us a terrific movie with a fantastic cast in order to shed some light on this little-known piece of British/Queen Victoria history. An entertaining movie, it's it worth sitting through for the performances alone.
About Allison Skornick-Rose
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