Consolata Boyle, two time Oscar nominated costume designer, works once again with Stephen Frears, the director behind Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena and The Queen, to bring the poignant hidden story of Queen Victoria’s confidant, Abdul Karim, to the big screen in Victoria and Abdul, a film based on Shrabani Basu’s book Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant.
Boyle was tasked with designing for the project starring Judi Dench, who returned to the role of Queen Victoria alongside Ali Fazal’s Abdul Karim, to reveal the curious connection and affection that developed between the two during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee until her death in 1901, as well as the public and personal consequences of their friendship.
“It’s a lovely period and a fascinating story,” said Boyle, of the ninth in a succession of films she has worked on with Stephen Frears as costume designer, their first being a small Irish film called The Snapper.
Victoria and Abdul follows Abdul Karim, a prison record keeper, as he travels from his homeland of Agra, India, under the pretense of providing service as a servant to the very empress whose imperial rule subjugates his country. Thus, much of the filming was shot in India and the United Kingdom.
“There were logistical challenges involved with shooting in India,” noted Boyle. “All of those scenes were shot together, then we moved from great house to great house, with a great deal of the filming taking place in the Osborne House.”
As East and West converge, actors Fazal and Adeel Akhtar, deliver snipping, witty humor revealing the culture shock experienced by their characters as they enter the royal world to represent India and present a medal to the Queen herself, during the year of her Golden Jubilee. The stark difference between East and West is further demonstrated through the comically strict and regimental professionalism of the household catering to Queen Victoria as well as the elaborate extravagance of the ornate costumes designed by Boyle.
“All the colors and fabrics were there for a particular purpose to communicate the underlying story. The rigidity and darkness of the Victorian world that mourned with their queen is contrasted by the light, beauty and color of India. Victoria was confined and not given much freedom in her later years, but she loved beautiful things and people. So naturally, as Abdul becames closer to that world, his dress becomes grander and grander,” revealed Boyle.
Drawing inspiration from photographs as well as the location for each shoot, Boyle and her team found the fabrics used for the film’s costumes in various places, including India.
“One of my main obsessions is fabric, and we found material everywhere among collectors and markets. Sometimes I would build a costume around a tiny piece of fabric that particularly peaked my interest,” added Boyle, who has a post-graduate diploma in textiles from the West Surrey College of Art and Design to prove her devotion to her craft.
She collaborated heavily with production designer Alan MacDonald on the project, both working to stay true to the creative vision of the film as a period piece and create a cohesive look to tell the film’s story. Thrilled to work on a project that revealed this interesting, unknown chapter of Victoria’s life, Boyle confessed, “Just being involved in that story was a triumph.”
In closing, Boyle stated, “Film is about magic, about life, smoke and mirrors.” Her craft is dedicated to creating the magic necessary to tell the stories that need to be told, and Victoria and Abdul offered her a wonderful opportunity to discover a new world.