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‘Victoria & Abdul’ aims to make the British Empire 'look ridiculous'

Eddie Izzard and Stephen Frears talk to Metro about the absurdity of the monarchy.
Judi Dench and Ali Fazal
[Photo: Focus Features]

Stephen Frears had never heard about Queen Victoria’s friendship with Abdul Karim before reading Lee Hall’s script for Victoria & Abdul. But even after doing so, telling their story wasn’t the legendary director’s main attraction to the film.

“I thought the jokes were very fun if I’m being honest. It made the Empire look ridiculous. And that’s what I loved, it just made me laugh at the Empire,” Frears admitted to Metro during a recent discussion about the comedy-drama, which hits US cinemas on September 22.

Eddie Izzard, on the other hand, was just delighted to be working with two titans of English cinema, especially as his character Bertie, Prince Of Wales, had to go toe-to-toe with Judie Dench’s Queen Victoria.

“I was being asked if I’d like to star in a Stephen Frears film starring opposite Judi Dench, so the story could have been about walking around in circles and I would have done it. It was out of my comfort zone, but I was happy to do it. Especially because we were shooting in Osborne House, which Victoria built with Albert, and is where she died. It was the first film to ever be allowed to shoot in Osborne House,” the actor shared.

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After running 27 marathons just before production, Izzard, who is widely regarded as one of the finest British comedians of his generation, had to put on 27 kilos to play the part. (That's roughly 60 pounds.) But he was quickly put at ease by Dench, who Izzard insists has a “great sense of humor,” and has thoroughly embraced the “teenage girl inside her.”

Just like Frears, Izzard was also attracted to “Victoria & Abdul” because of the absurdity of the monarchy in that era. “It’s shot in such a beautiful way showing the crazy opulence of the food that Judi is inhaling all the time. It’s not a happy monarchy. Maybe modern monarchy, what with Diana and what Charles has brought to the table and what the kids are doing will make it survive, but hereditary privilege is just a nonsense in this century,” Izzard opined.

Frears still holds both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II in high esteem, though. The latter was the topic of the filmmaker’s 2006 drama "The Queen," which starred Helen Mirren, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. “I think Queen Victoria was really a classy woman. When we made 'The Queen,' the only person that we really liked was the Queen. In a sense we have been really lucky to have two Queens like that, who are capable of seeing the problems with a situation, and are more intelligent than you expect.”

It’s an affection that’s present throughout "Victoria & Abdul," even if those involved in the film couldn't help but poke fun at the pomp and pageantry of it all.