This is the account of Queen Victoria who became enamoured with her handsome table-hand, having fallen for his exotic charms. His name was Abdul Karim, and in 1887 he was given to Queen Victoria by the Indian arm of the Empire to be a servant. It was not long before the attentive young man caught her eye.
Queen Victoria had by this time lost her beloved consort Albert (in 1861) and subsequent companion, the ghillie John Brown (in 1883). Maybe she had a soft spot for servants because, at almost 70, she fell under the spell of Karim, who was in his early twenties – though, despite the teasing title of this documentary, it was not a sexual, or even a romantic, affair. She loved him like a mother – and, indeed, signed letters to him as that. He became her teacher and she learned Hindustani from him. She gave him houses (three of them), a luxury lifestyle and medals.
Needless to say, this wasn’t popular in royal circles, where Karim was despised for being a servant (which meant he was low class), for being an Indian (which meant he was even lower) and for being Queen Victoria’s favourite (which is what really hurt). This antipathy wasn’t helped by Karim’s personality.
The Royal household hated the man, and tried to get rid of him – writing letters attacking him, sending an envoy (with the marvellous name of Fritz Ponsonby) to investigate his Indian background and even, in the case of the Queen’s medic, Sir James Reid, revealing that Karim had gonorrhoea.
So much for the doctors’ oath of secrecy.
But the harder they attacked, the more Queen Victoria supported her man – until her family threatened to have her declared insane. Mind you, she was planning to give Karim a knighthood, so they felt they had a point.
This documentary told the story in an entertaining fashion and, given the limited photographs and documents available, writer and director Rob Coldstream kept the story flowing with expert interviewees and dramatised scenes – the latter a technique that can be clumsy but was subtly effective here. It featured a very believable Queen Victoria, played by Veronica Clifford, who appeared suitably fearsome and, at times, imperiously deluded.