Ham House features in new film Victoria & Abdul

If the lawn at Ham House could talk it would probably relay tales of wobbly jelly and Hollywood film stars. Well at least that’s what it might say about the filming of the latest Stephen Frears’ film, Victoria & Abdul, that took place there.

Unknown for more than 100 years, this is the story of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and her servant, who became her ‘munshi’ or ‘teacher’.  Not only did this friendship cross social, cultural and religious divides but it also conflicted with Victorian sensibilities.

Victoria & Abdul explores the impact of this friendship, particularly on Victoria’s son the Prince of Wales, played by Eddie Izzard, and her household.

" I don’t understand why the story isn’t better known. It is a film in favour of tolerance."
- Stephen Frears
Queen Victoria and Abdul in the banqueting scene, Ham House
Queen Victoria and Abdul in the banqueting scene, Ham House

When Hollywood met Ham House

For three days in October 2016, Ham House was a hive of activity as the stars of the film – Dame Judi Dench, as Queen Victoria, Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim, Adeel Akhtar as Mohammed, and Sir Michael Gambon as Lord Salisbury, plus numerous extras, cameramen, sound crews, wardrobe, directors and producers created the fabulous banqueting scene. 

The 17th-century house on the bank of the Thames in Richmond lent its lawn (or plats), attics, back parlour and cellar to the production team.

Ham House General Manager Naomi Hutchinson, said of the filming 'The parts of the house used for the production are the plats. They’re quite 17th century in arrangement, so it was really lovely to have them dressed for a different period.'

'Also the servants areas which we’d never had filmed before was a real treat for us.'

'The third floor had never been used for any kind of production – we had to go right back to the drawing board and examine floor loading and engineer the whole process.'

Mohammed and Abdul in the banqueting scene, Ham House
Mohammed and Abdul in the banqueting scene, Ham House

The first to tell the story of Abdul

The film has been adapted from the book by Sharbani Basu, Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, itself based on the diaries of Queen Victoria. Written by her in Urdu the diaries were thankfully overlooked when the Prince of Wales destroyed all correspondence between Victoria and Abdul. 

Abdul kept his own diary of his extraordinary trip to England to present to the Queen, as Empress of India, with a commemorative medal to mark her Golden Jubilee.  

Of the first time actor Ali Fazal heard the story he said, 'It was shocking because I wish I had known about it. Almost you feel guilty not knowing - it’s sort of conveniently been brushed aside from both sides of the turf.'

" It’s a very special part and the responsibility of bringing it out to the world, being a true story is scary. Scary and special."
- Ali Fazal

Allowing our places to be used for filming is not only a brilliant way of sharing the amazing places we look after with wider audiences, but most importantly all fees go directly back to the property involved, supporting its conservation work.

The film opens in the UK on 15 September.