Union VFX - Victoria and Abdul

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Union Help Bring Abdul to Victoria

Victoria and Abdul is director Stephen Frears and screenplay writer Lee Hall’s interpretation of Sharabani Basu’s 2011 novel “Victoria & Abdul: The True Story Of The Queen's Closest Confidant”.  

Union were delighted to reunite with director Stephen Frears (they worked on Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena and The Program) to help bring this little known story of Queen Victoria’s unconventional relationship with Abdul Karim - an Indian servant less than half her age - to the screen.  

The story begins in 1887 with Abdul arriving from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.  The two forge an unlikely and controversial alliance with Abdul becoming the Queen’s personal teacher, or Munshi, within a year. 

The visual effects on this project were very much contextual and there to facilitate the storytelling.  Much of the work involved returning locations to the correct period - everything from removing sculptures to dressing sets with period props and re-creating docks as they would have been in the late 1800s.

The largest effects shots showed Abdul’s departure from India, journey to and arrival in England.

The vibrant Indian dock, complete with period boats was built in CG and composited with plates shot on location in Agra. Once at sea, the above deck sequences were shot against blue screen and integrated with a CG boat surrounded by CG water. 

After six weeks at sea Abdul arrives into a large, bustling port; albeit a lot colder and less colourful than the one he departed from.  A period replica boat was shot in dry dock in Chatham against blue screen, but the rest of the scene was created digitally by the team at Union complete with multiple other boats, props, atmospherics effects and CG birds. 

Having heard tell of the ‘Queen of Fruits’ from Abdul, the Queen was keen to try a mango for herself and requested one be shipped from India.  The six week journey took it’s toll and it was Union’s job to deliver a suitably decomposed mango, which involved having lots of decaying mangos in the office to photograph for reference.

Abdul was never far from the Queen’s side as she travelled between residences in London, Scotland and the Isle of Wight - where she spent a lot of time in her latter years - all of which required modern day clean up.

Despite great access to many locations, it was not always possible to film where desired.  Limited access to Winchester Cathedral required a creative approach for a shot where the Queen is seen on her throne in front of an ornate background.  Union shot hundreds of stills in the Cathedral itself and used them to texture a CG model into which they then composited live action footage shot in Greenwich Hall to achieve the desired effect.

An exotically planted area of Regents Park also masqueraded as a tropical Indian garden near Agra in which a statue of Victoria was erected after Abdul returned home.  

VFX Supervisor, Adam Gascoyne adds: “Stephen had a great vision and together with production designer Alan Macdonald, cinematographer Danny Cohen and producer Tracey Seaward we formed a close knit team focussed on bringing this little known story to life.  With Judi Dench reprising her BAFTA winning turn as Queen Victoria there was a lot of pressure to get it right, but we’re really happy with the end result.”

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