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Judi Dench is set to take the British crown. Again.
The Oscar winner will star as Queen Victoria in Working Title Film’s Victoria and Abdul, with Stephen Frears set to direct. Focus Features will release domestically, and is co-financing in association with BBC Films. Universal is set to distribute internationally.
Based on Shrabani Basu’s book, Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, and with a screenplay by Oscar-nominated writer Lee Hall, who won a Tony for Billy Elliot, the film will tell the true story of an unexpected friendship in the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Abdul Karim was a young Indian clerk who traveled from India to London to participate in Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1897. He soon found himself forging an unlikely and devoted alliance with the monarch, one that her household and inner circle attempted to destroy. Victoria gave Karim the name “the Munshi,” often translated as “clerk” or “teacher,” and appointed him her Indian Secretary along with other honors. He served during the final 15 years of her rule.
The film will mark the second time Dench has played the historical figure (she was Academy Award nominated for her royal turn in 1997’s Mrs. Brown), her third collaboration with Frears (she was nominated again for their last outing together, Philomena) and the director’s fifth with Working Title.
Victoria and Abdul was developed by Beeban Kidron and Lee Hall at Cross Street Films with BBC Films, and is being produced by Kidron, Academy Award nominee Tracey Seaward (The Queen) and Working Title’s co-chairs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.
“BBC Films is delighted to have supported Lee Hall’s terrific script and extremely excited to be back in business with the winning combination that is Stephen Frears and Judi Dench,” said Christine Langan, head of BBC Films and exec producer for Victoria and Abdul.
Focus chairman Peter Kujawski commented: “It is a true privilege to collaborate with the great Stephen Frears and the legendary Judi Dench to tell this story of discovery, and it is always an event when Tim and Eric make a film that promises to move and delight audiences around the world.”
Victoria and Abdul is due to go into production this year for a 2017 release.
The film announcement comes just as ITV and PBS ready their big-budget series Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman and focusing on the Queen’s teenage years. The eight-part drama is due to launch in the U.K. later this year and on Masterpiece in 2017.
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