Victoria and Abdul is the somewhat true story of the friendship between Queen Victoria and a commoner from India, who became her closest friend and advisor…and in many respects was as a son to her. It was touching and humorous and even at times biting (and appropriately so). It had a lot to say about things like prejudice and greed and entitlement and ignorance and imperialism… and did it with subtlety and directness, humor and sarcasm and yet managed to do so with gentleness and even grace. It was well done. Instead of railing against what was wrong with the world or the people in it, the movie focuses on a better way of doing things. Let me explain.
Victoria’s staff and her children were furious at her attachment to and elevation of Abdul. They were mad because he was common (they were snobs). They were mad because he was Indian (they were racist). And finally, they were mad because he wasn’t them (they were entitled). It would have been easy to make a movie that was bitter in tone, that focused on all that was wrong and unfair in their treatment of both Victoria and Abdul. And while the movie does reveal some of those things (as it has to for the sake of the story), like how the staff tried to sabotage Abdul, and how they threatened to commit Victoria to an insane asylum because of Abdul, it doesn’t focus on their wrongs.
Instead, the focus of the movie is the good and the beautiful—in Abdul himself, and in the relationship between himself and Victoria. They couldn’t change the opinions of the people around them, but they could live by example. They could live better. They could give grace. Abdul set the example in this. He told Victoria that we are on this earth for a greater purpose—to be servants. This is how he lived his life. He didn’t strive for position or power; he only aspired to serve. He served her with his whole heart, and he won hers in the process. Even when she advised him to go home because she knew it wasn’t safe for him in the palace anymore (because of her son and her staff), he didn’t try to defend or protect himself. He continued to choose a life of service to her. “This is my home…. I am your servant. As long as I shall live, I will always be by your side.”
This is the Christian life, or what it should be, anyway. That we don’t try to protect our lives, but rather we give them wholly in service to the Lord. Even when it seems unsafe, we vow that we will never leave His side or His service. We also don’t try to defend ourselves. We may be falsely accused, and misunderstood, but what does it matter if only God knows the truth? Victoria defended Abdul—he never defended himself. God will defend us. He is our advocate. And frankly, His is the only opinion that matters. What is it to us if the world misjudges us or has a low opinion of us, so long as we are good with Him?
In regards to his enemies, Abdul was gracious and forgiving, never repaying the evil they did him. In this way he also models the way of Christ. Mind you, he was not a Christian; he was Muslim. Nevertheless, even non-Christians may, at times, show us what it is to be like Christ in one way or another. See what the Bible says about this:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[a] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[b]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:17-21
And again, we read:
9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”[a]
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:9-14)
The reality is that in the end, Abdul did suffer for his friendship with Victoria. On top of a lifetime of insults and injury, when she died, he and his wife were instantly and mercilessly kicked out of their house and everything that she had given him was burned. It was mean spirited and cruel. Nevertheless, he was blessed. He was blessed to have known and loved her, and to have been loved by her.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why do you think people were so jealous of and hateful towards Abdul?
- Have you ever been in Abdul’s shoes? Have you ever been surrounded by people who were jealous of you or hateful towards you for no good reason? How did you respond?
- Have you ever been Berti’s shoes (Victoria’s son)—and had someone come into your life that seemed to steal your place? Have you ever been really jealous of someone?
- How did Abdul model the life of Jesus (even though he wasn’t Christian)?
- Have you ever tried to return evil with good? To bless those who persecute you? How hard was it? What was the result?
- How do you feel about the statement that “even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”?
- Is it easy or hard to let God be your defender (versus defending yourself)?
- Can you imagine getting the point where the only relationship that really matters to you is your relationship with God—such that you didn’t care what everyone/anyone else thinks, so long as you know you are good with God? On a scale of 1 to 10, how close are you to that being a reality?