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Brisbane Film Critics Select 'Get Out' As Best Of 2017


Since 2011, I have been pulling together a list of the best movies of the year according to the Brisbane-based critics who I run into regularly at preview screenings.  Those films to have topped prior year lists have been Drive in 2011, Argo in 2012, Gravity in 2013, Boyhood in 2014, Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015 and La La Land in 2016.

To come up with an overall top 10, I’ve used a simple points system and applied it to the list of each critic. It is as follows:
 - 3 points for the top film on each list.
 - 2 points for the films ranked between 2nd and 5th on each list.
 - 1 point for the films ranked between 6th and 10th on each list.

If two films finished on the same score, the film that appeared on the most number of top 10 lists is ranked higher (as an indication of wider approval).

This year's #1 film was Get Out.  Of the 10 critics surveyed, 7 had it as one of their top 5 movies of the year.  Released in Australia back in May, it could be a serious Oscars contender when the nominees are announced in a few weeks.

Call Me by Your Name finished 2nd in this year's poll with last year's Oscar winner, Moonlight, rounding out the places in 3rd.  Three other films appeared on at least half of the critics' respective top 10 lists - Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk and The Florida Project

On that note, here are the top 10 movies of 2017 according to Brisbane critics…

Brisbane Film Critics - Top 10 of 2017
1.  Get Out
2.  Call Me by Your Name
3.  Moonlight
4.  Blade Runner 2049
5.  Dunkirk
6.  The Florida Project
7.  Jackie
8.  Baby Driver
9.  The Big Sick
10. mother!
 
You can view a table of all the votes and final scores by clicking here.

A big thanks to all the critics who were able to contribute. Hopefully we'll do it again next year!

You can check out information on all the Brisbane critics (along with their choices for the best and worst of 2017) below.

 

 

Matthew ToomeyMatthew Toomey

Born in Brisbane, Matt Toomey was introduced to the world of cinema when he landed a job at a video store fresh out of high school in 1995. A few years later, he started his own website and reviewed movies regularly on a community radio station. In 2005, he joined the team at 612ABC and can be heard reviewing the latest releases every Thursday morning. He can also be heard weekly on regional ABC throughout Queensland.

Website: www.thefilmpie.com
Twitter: @ToomeyMatt

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Call Me by Your Name
2. 20th Century Women
3. A Monster Calls
4. Manchester by the Sea
5. Get Out
6. Moonlight
7. Toni Erdmann
8. Coco
9. Dunkirk
10. Land of Mine
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Lion
Best Animated Film:
Coco
Best Documentary:
I Am Not Your Negro
Best Performance:
Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)
Worst Film:
Transformers: The Last Knight
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Call Me by Your Name

 

Sarah WardSarah Ward

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and feature writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien's Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS and SBS Movies, Metro Magazine and Screen Education. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Birth.Movies.Death, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, and the World Film Locations book series. Sarah is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, and a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Sunshine Coast.

Websites: www.artshub.com.au
www.concreteplayground.com
www.screendaily.com/sarah-ward/1100859.contributor
www.goethe.de/ins/au/en/kul/sup/kio.html
www.sbs.com.au/guide/person/sarah-ward
www.sbs.com.au/movies/person/sarah-ward
www.trespassmag.com
Twitter: @swardplay

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Call Me By Your Name
2. The Florida Project
3. Moonlight
4. Raw
5. Get Out
6. Toni Erdmann
7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
8. Jackie
9. Good Time
10. mother!
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. The Shape of Water
2. Nocturama
3. Sweet Country
4. Zama
5. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Hounds of Love
Best Animated Film:
Coco
Best Documentary:
I Am Not Your Negro
Best Performance:
Harry Dean Stanton (Lucky)
Worst Film:
A Few Less Men
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Happy Death Day
Call Me by Your Name

 

Garry WilliamsGarry Williams

Garry Williams is a reviewer for Film Club, a radio program broadcast on 4ZZZ-FM (102.1FM) each Thursday from 6-7pm.

Website: www.4zzzfm.org.au
Twitter: @thegeegenie

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Wind River
2. Miss Sloane
3. Get Out
4. Blade of the Immortal
5. Ingrid Goes West
6. Denial
7. Manchester by the Sea
8. Thor: Ragnarok
9. Baby Driver
10. Blade Runner 2049
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. The Shape of Water
2. Sweet Country
3. Manifesto
4. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
5. The Last Goldfish
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Australia Day
Best Animated Film:
The LEGO Batman Movie
Best Documentary:
Right Here: The Go Betweens
Best Performance:
Cate Blanchett (Manifesto)
Worst Film:
A Few Less Men
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Only The Brave
Wind River

 

Peter GrayPeter Gray

Peter Gray is a Brisbane based freelance entertainment writer specialising in film. Currently the entertainment reporter/film reviewer for QNews, Queensland’s largest LGBT publication, and regular contributor to Hush Hush Biz, The Iris and This is Film.

Website: hushhushbiz.com
qnews.com.au
theiris.com.au
Twitter: @ratedPDG

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. mother!
2. Dunkirk
3. Moonlight
4. Call Me by Your Name
5. Get Out
6. Blade Runner 2049
7. Miss Sloane
8. The Disaster Artist
9. Paddington 2
10. Lady Macbeth
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2. Darkest Hour
3. Mudbound
4. Lady Bird
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Berlin Syndrome
Best Animated Film:
Coco
Best Documentary:
Whitney: Can I Be Me
Best Performance:
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Worst Film:
A Few Less Men
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
47 Metres Down
mother!

 

Ella DonaldElla Donald

Ella Donald is a student and freelance journalist and film critic. You can read her work in places like Vanity Fair, The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Vice, Little White Lies and various Fairfax outlets.

Website: elladonaldwriter.wordpress.com
Twitter: @ellafdonald

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. 20th Century Women
2. Moonlight
3. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
4. Call Me by Your Name
5. Baby Driver
6. The Florida Project
7. Jackie
8. The Big Sick
9. Blade Runner 2049
10. The Greatest Showman
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. Lady Bird
2. Wonderstruck
3. Step
4. Columbus
5. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Jasper Jones
Best Animated Film:
Coco
Best Documentary:
I Am Not Your Negro
Best Performance:
Ensemble (Professor Marston and the Wonder Women) and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)
Worst Film:
A Cure for Wellness
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Gifted
20th Century Women

 

David EdwardsDavid Edwards

David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb Magazine and writes about film and television.

Website: www.theblurb.com.au
Twitter: @TheBlurbMag

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Personal Shopper
2. Get Out
3. Jackie
4. The Big Sick
5. Blade Runner 2049
6. Dunkirk
7. Manchester by the Sea
8. Logan Lucky
9. Final Portrait
10. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. Lady Bird
2. The Death of Stalin
3. The Exception
4. Dave Made a Maze
5. The Square
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Ali's Wedding
Best Animated Film:
Loving Vincent
Best Documentary:
Chasing Trane
Best Performance:
Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper)
Worst Film:
Free Fire
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Personal Shopper

 

Dave CreweDave Crewe

Freelance film critic with a fondness for arthouse and grindhouse films in roughly equal measure. Obsessed with David Lynch. Founding editor of ccpopculture, and freelances for SBS Movies, Junkee, The Brag, Metro Magazine and Screen Education, amongst others.

Website: ccpopculture.com
Twitter: @dacrewe

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Personal Shopper
2. Moonlight
3. Call Me by Your Name
4. Song to Song
5. Paddington 2
6. Good Time
7. Logan
8. Alien: Covenant
9. Raw
10. Jackie
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. Nocturama
2. Lady Bird
3. Mudbound
4. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
5. How to Talk to Girls at Parties
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Hounds of Love
Best Animated Film:
Coco
Best Documentary:
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
Best Performance:
Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper)
Worst Film:
The Snowman
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Only the Brave
Personal Shopper

 

Michael DaltonMichael Dalton

Former “screens” editor for m/c reviews, now contributor at TOM.

Websites: http://www.tommagazine.com.au/

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Dunkirk
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Moonlight
4. The Florida Project
5. Logan
6. God's Own Country
7. Jackie
8. It
9. Hidden Figures
10. Paddington 2
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2. The Shape of Water
3. The Party
4. All the Money in the World
5. Wonderstruck
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Don't Tell
Best Animated Film:
The LEGO Batman Movie
Best Documentary:
I Am Not Your Negro
Best Performance:
Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes)
Worst Film:
mother!
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Logan
Dunkirk

 

Baz McAlisterBaz McAlister

Baz McAlister is a writer and deputy night editor at The Courier-Mail and co-hosts 'Force Material', a podcast about the secrets, history and influences of Star Wars.

Website: bazmcalister.wordpress.com
www.forcematerial.com
Twitter: @bazmcalister

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
3. Baby Driver
4. Get Out
5. The Big Sick
6. Thor: Ragnarok
7. Brigsby Bear
8. Blade Runner 2049
9. Dunkirk
10. Logan
 
 
Best Australian Film:
That's Not Me
Best Animated Film:
Coco
Best Documentary:
Kedi
Best Performance:
Mark Hamill (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
Worst Film:
Justice League
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Happy Death Day
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

Adam RabocziAdam Roboczi

Adam Raboczi is a reviewer for 4ZZZ’s Film Club (Thursdays @ 6pm) and manages the show’s Facebook page.  He occasionally makes overcomplicated music videos.

Website: 4zzzfm.org.au/program/film-club
facebook.com/4zzzFilmClub/
Twitter: n/a

 
 
Top 10 Released Films:
1. Good Time
2. mother!
3. Get Out
4. Blade Runner 2049
5. The Florida Project
6. Dunkirk
7. Baby Driver
8. Ingrid Goes West
9. The Disaster Artist
10. The Big Sick
 
 
Top Unreleased Films:
1. Okja
2. The Endless
3. Brawl in Cell Block 99
4. Antiporno
5. Nocturama
 
 
Best Australian Film:
Hounds of Love
Best Animated Film:
The LEGO Batman Movie (or Valerian of you ignore the humans)
Best Documentary:
Becoming Bond
Best Performance:
Terry Notary (The Square)
Worst Film:
Collateral Beauty
Most Surprised To Enjoy:
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (surprised by how I enjoyed it)
Good Time

Matt's Top 10 Movies of 2017

This will be my last e-newsletter of the year and in keeping with tradition, it’s time to reveal my top 10 movies of 2017.  I love doing this because it’s a way of closing the book on the year and summing it up with 10 really amazing films that I can’t wait to watch again.

All of my old lists (going back to 1996) can be found on my website by clicking here - http://www.thefilmpie.com/index.php/special?id=174.

Honourable mentions go to Ingrid Goes West, Jackie, Lion, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Paddington 2, Beatriz at Dinner, The Edge of Seventeen, Wonder Woman, Beatriz at Dinner, Thor: Ragnarok, Gifted, Perfect Strangers, Detroit, Loving and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

But my top 10 in reverse order are…

10. Land of Mine (out Mar 30) recounts a fascinating piece of post-World War II history. It follows a group of young German prisoners of war who had to locate and disarm more than 150,000 land mines on a Danish beach. Unlike traditional war films, the tension comes from moments that are eerily quiet (as opposed to big action sequences). The moral is as relevant today as it's ever been.

9. Dunkirk (out Jul 20) is an intense, unrelenting drama that follows members of the British army, navy and air force as they try to escape the beaches of Dunkirk, France in May 1940. Great use of sound, music and time combined with a noticeable lack of dialogue. I was a sweaty mess by the end.

8. Coco (out Dec 26) is this year's best animated feature. It's the story of a 12-year-old kid from Mexico who stumbles into the Land of the Dead and goes in search of his great-great-grandfather. This is beautifully touching tale that has a lot of say about celebrating the past and why me must remember those who have come before us. The walking, talking skeletons are great too!

7. Toni Erdmann (out Feb 9) is a wonderful German comedy about a father who used unorthodox techniques to reconnect with his middle-aged, workaholic daughter. I’m struggling to think of a more warped, out-of-the-box comedy from the past year. You'll have no idea what's around each corner.

6. Moonlight (out Jan 26) follows a kid named Chiron who is from a poor, troubled neighbourhood in Miami. It is split into three segments with each providing a glimpse of Chiron’s at key points in his life. This is a remarkably good movie about one man trying to find love and his place in the world. The performances are hard to fault.

5. Get Out (out May 4) is an unorthodox horror-thriller that could be game changer for the genre. Instead of frightening the audience with blood, violence and creepy noises, writer-director Jordan Peele puts you on edge by having to listen to unsettling conversations. The less you know going in, the better!

4. Manchester by the Sea (out Feb 2) is the story of a man who has distanced himself from his family but is force to reconnect after a tragic event. This is an exquisitely well-told tale about the way we deal with trauma and loss. It also has a surprising amount of comedy. The performances, headlined by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges, are wonderful.

3. A Monster Calls (out Jul 27) is based on the novel by British author Patrick Ness and is about 12-year-old boy trying to come to grips with his mother's terminal cancer. This is a beautiful coming-of-age drama with some wonderful visual imagery. It delves into the ways we deal with grief whilst also reminding us that there are many different perspectives when looking through the prism of life.

2. 20th Century Women (out Jun 1) is an observational drama set in 1979 about a 55-year-old mother (Annette Bening) trying to connect with her 15-year-old son. Drawing from personal experiences, Mike Mills has created a remarkable film that offers tragedy, laughter and reflection. I could listen to these characters talk and watch them interact for hours.

1. Call Me by Your Name (out Dec 26) is a hauntingly beautiful love story set in northern Italy. Director Luca Guadagnino makes the most of the idyllic setting and perfectly captures both the exterior and inner beauty of his characters. Dialogue is used sparingly with Timothée Chalamet gives the performance of a lifetime. If there’s been a better film released during 2017, I haven’t seen it.

I saw and reviewed a total of 204 films this year which made it my highest total since 2011.  I look forward to starting the counter again from scratch as 2018 begins!

Have a great Christmas and an awesome start to the New Year!

Interview - Producer Jonathan Cavendish Allows Us To 'Breathe'

Jonathan Cavendish Interview

We’ve got a great group of Boxing Day releases in Australia and one of those which is definitely worth seeing is Breathe.  I recently spoke with producer Jonathan Cavendish about what was a very special project…

Matt:  Can I ask a little about your background?  How did you get into film producing?

Jonathan:  I studied history at university and I felt that I didn’t want to be limited by facts any more.  I wanted to be able to tell stories that aren’t factually based and so I made a whole series of comedies like that such as Bridges Jones’ Diary.

Matt:  I have to ask the most obvious question then – how did you end up producing a film based on the life of your own father?

Jonathan:  As a film producer, you’re constantly looking for good stories and it took me a bit of time to realise that the life of my own parents was actually an extraordinary story.  I saw it as a wonderful example of what people can achieve with adversity but it’s also a joyous example of how life is possible in even the most dire of circumstances.

Matt: Can you talk to me about the choice of Andy Serkis as director?  He has countless acting credits to his name but this is his first shot as director of a feature film.

Jonathan:  We are partners in a company called The Imaginarium and we create all sorts of marvellous characters for our films and for other people’s films.  This film is slightly out of Andy’s wheelhouse but he’s an incredible director of actors.  He saw in the film something just as transportive as films he’s been in like Planet of the Apes and Lord of the Rings.

It’s actually not the first film he’s directed but it’s the first one to be released.  He directed an amazing performance capture film which is very much based on The Jungle Book which we’re currently doing with Warner Bros.  It’ll be coming out next year and has Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch.  We shot that film first but because it takes a long time in post-production, there was a pause where we could jump in and take advantage of the availability of Andrew Garfield and Clare Foy to make Breathe.

Matt:  William Nicholson is an Oscar nominated screenwriter who was behind films like Shadowlands, Nell and Unbroken.  With no previously written book to draw from, how did he put together the screenplay for this film and delve into the details of your father and mother?

Jonathan:  Well, he and I spent a lot of time together.  We did a movie together Elizabeth: The Golden Age with Cate Blanchett.  After that, I told him about my parents’ stories and he said he’d love to write a screenplay but under one condition – that I didn’t pay him until the film actually happens.  His thinking was that since the film is such a personal story and that my mother is still alive, it would be wrong for anyone else to have ownership of it in case it didn’t get to the point where it was worth making.

He and I worked on it together for 6-7 years in between his films and my films.  We revisited it every 6 months or so.  He was blessed with an incredible, analytical, razor sharp intelligence but he’d forget everything that he’s written as soon as he’d written it.  He’d jump on a train every 6 months to visit me in London and would read the script on the way and he’d go “gosh, this is really good, the first act is great but the second act needs a bit of work”.  He was very resistance to the idea of change and making it better and better.

He spent a lot of time with my mother and people who had known my father.  Over time, he built up a very accurate, dramatic and moving picture of their lives.

Matt:  One thing I found interesting about the film, and perhaps I’m wrong on this, is that the first half is about Diana lifting the spirits of Robin but the second half sees the roles reversed with Robin lifting the spirits of Diana?  Is that how you saw the relationship between your parents growing up?

Jonathan:  My father was 27-year-old who was incredibly fit man with everything in front of him.  Suddenly, over a 24 hour period, he began to lose movement of his arms and legs and by the end of it, he was entirely unable to move.  It was how he remained for the rest of his life and my mother was only 24 at the time.  My father was given days, then weeks and then months to live but he did want to die.  He was shipped back to England and he told everyone he met to turn his machine off.  He wanted to free my mother who by then had a baby which was me. 

He didn’t want to go on but my mother refused to let him do that.  She talked him around and persuaded him that there was a life and together, they broke out of hospital.  Once my father was home and pioneering a new way of life, he never looked back.  He and my mother formed this extraordinary partnership.

It wasn’t that my mother needed cheering up but it was my father that came up with the projects that gave them momentum and the drive to go on and change the lives of thousands across England and Europe.    

Matt:  We’ve got two great actors here in the leading roles – Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy.  How were they chosen?  Did you have to work hard to get them or was it the other way around?

Jonathan:  We’d been looking for a while for the right actor to play my father.  Many brilliant actors wanted the part but none of them absolutely right and I was starting to wonder whether it was a psychological condition on my part that was stopping me making the film.  Perhaps I didn’t want to make that final huge move to make a film about my parents’ life. 

Once I met Andrew over dinner in Los Angeles, I instantly knew that he was the right person and had the right qualities.  He was a brilliant technical actor but he also had the characteristics to play the part.  Literally a few days later, we met Clare Foy for the first time who had just finished the first season of the Netflix series The Crown which hadn’t aired yet.  She was very much life my mother in many ways in terms of looks, sense of humour and strength of character.  We immediately knew that the film should be made and could be made.

Matt:  What’s it like seeing yourself portrayed in the film?  Are those scenes were you interact with your father fictional or are they based on actual events that took place in your life?

Jonathan:  Everything in the film happened.  That’s kind of the point of it.  If you’re going to make a movie like this, there’s no need to make stuff up.  The emphasis in the film is on the extraordinary relationship between my parents that has them as much in love on the first day they met up until the day my father passed away.  In the film, my own character isn’t marginalised but is really a symbol of their marriage rather than a person we spend a lot of time focusing on.

I’m also the timekeeper so I go from being a baby through to a 20 year old and that helps mark the passage of time throughout the movie.                                                 

Matt:  One thing that’s touched upon in the film, albeit briefly, is euthanasia.  It’s a subject that’s getting attention in Australia at the moment with a push to legalise it at a state and national level.  What are your thoughts on the issue?

Jonathan:  I think the only thoughts you can have on such a huge issue come from your own experiences.  My father willed himself to live and did so enormously happily for many years.  He was only expected to live for a few days but he ended up living with his condition for 36 years but there did come a point where the quality of his life suddenly deteriorated below what he thought was acceptable for himself and my mother.  At the end of his life, he had more control over his leaving than any of us will ever had.

My experience of that was joyous.  The fact that he knew that he was going allowed him to say goodbye and have some wonderful and humorous experiences take place.  I’m therefore a huge supporter of the idea of euthanasia but I acknowledge that many people will disagree with that point of view on moral grounds.

Matt:  You’ve had a chance to take this film around the world and screen it at festivals like Toronto and London.  What feedback have you been receiving from audiences so far?

Jonathan:  The response has been quite extraordinary.  I’ve made many films all over the world but this has had the most extreme audience responses with people being very moved, laughing and feeling like it’s touched them in some way.  It’s made them feel better about life.  What problems they had going into the cinema were dissipated by the experience.  I’ve had thousands of letters and emails from all over the world.  We’re very lucky.

It was the film that Andy Serkis and I hoped to make.  The actors were so extraordinary.  Not just Andrew Garfield and Clare Foy but also people like Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander and Diana Rigg.  It was great to see them attracted to this story in the same way that audiences have been.

Matt:  Well I hope you paid Tom Hollander twice since he technically appears as two separate characters in the movie.

Jonathan:  That’s right!  My mother had two very funny, very eccentric twins as brothers who would bicker in an amusing, loving way.  Tom played both of them quite brilliantly and he’s still joking with me that he should have been paid twice.

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  Any plans to transition from producing to directing?

Jonathan:  We’re finishing The Jungle Book at the moment which will be out in a year.  We have all sorts of projects we’re working on at the moment.  One of them is a performance capture version of Animal Farm which we’re translating to modern America.  It’s what we think George Orwell would have done if he were around today – he’d be satirising North America and business and politics.  It’s a very funny film which I hope will get people to stand up and think.

Interview - Author Shrabani Basu Helps Adapt 'Victoria & Abdul'

Shrabani Basu Interview

Victoria & Adbul is an interesting true story that is about to be released in Australian cinemas.  I had the chance to speak with the author of the book on which it is based, Shrabani Basu, to ask about her research and the film itself…

Matt:  Can you tell us what inspired the book in the first place?

Shrabani:  I’d heard a little bit about Queen Victoria’s love for curries and I knew she had some Indian servants who cooked for her.  I travelled to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and they have an Indian corridor with paintings of Indian rulers and soldiers.  In between them was a portrait of Abdul Karim where he was wearing red, gold and cream.  He did not look like a servant so that intrigued me.  I then saw a lot of photographs of him and it was evident that he was quite special.  There was even a photograph of him placed in the Queen’s dressing room which was placed below a photo of John Brown who was also a very special person to her.  I decided to do a bit more investigating and that’s what started the journey.

Matt:  Was there any interaction with the Royal Family or Buckingham Palace in putting the book together? 

Shrabani:  My first stop was Windsor Castle because that’s where Queen Victoria’s journals are kept.  I asked for permission to access the archives and read her journals.  She wanted to learn Urdu from Abdul Karim and there are 13 volumes of journals that she wrote in that language.  No one had seen them before because Western biographers wouldn’t have understood them and so they hadn’t been opened.  That shed a lot of light on the story.

I then went to Agra, India which was Abdul’s home town.  I visited his grave and found his family who had told me about Abdul’s own journals which were being kept in Karachi.  That led to me a third country, Pakistan.  It was a long process with 4 years of research and we finally got the story in the end.     

Matt:  Was there further information that came out after the book’s release?  I can imagine it would have got the attention of many people who read it.

Shrabani:  It was actually after the first edition of the book was released when Abdul Karim’s family contacted me.  In the press interviews for book, I was saying that I had been looking for the family but was struggling because Abdul had no children.  I didn’t even have names to go with.  They reached out which is what led me to Karachi.  The book was then updated for the next edition in 2011. 

Matt:  We’re talking about events that took place more than 100 years ago and a lot of records were not retained.  Were there gaps in the narrative or lingering questions that you’d love to have known the answer to?

Shrabani:  There always are.  There’s no end to gaps you want to fill.  There was a big gap for a while when I didn’t have his diaries.  I felt I hadn’t heard his voice yet.  I picked up some from the Queen’s Hindustani journals but I wanted to know more about him, his childhood and his family life but there were no records of that.  All of that was covered when I read his journals.  Also, when I found his descendants, they were able to provide me with an oral history that had been passed down through the family. 

Matt:  It does have the appearance of a truth is stranger than fiction kind of tale.  In your opinion, what was it that created that first connection between Queen Victoria and Abdul?

Shrabani:  Queen Victoria was Empress of India and she loved the country.  She really wanted to travel there but she couldn’t because the distance was too far.  It would have taken 6 weeks by ship.  Her advisors also didn’t want her going there for political reasons.  So it was India that came to her in the form of Abdul Karim.  He was fresh from Agra and he was a young man who gave her unfiltered, uncensored stories from the streets of Agra.  He told her about the festivals, the people and the stalls.  He cooked her a curry.  She then wanted to learn Urdu and suddenly she was transported into another world.  She was getting to know India, speak the language, taste the food, and living out her role as the Empress of India. 

Matt:  It’s always tough taking a novel and condensing it into a 2 hour movie.  What are your thoughts on it?  Were you involved much during the filmmaking process?

Shrabani:  I was a consultant on the movie so we discussed the screenplay and Abdul’s character.  I did have some early concerns about how it would be portrayed on film but it was in the hands of a very good screenplay writer, Lee Hall.  I also helped research costumes and sets in my role as a consultant.  We found photos in the British Library and these were replicated for the film. 

Matt:  Judi Dench portrays Queen Victoria has someone who seems to have grown tired of her role of Queen but she still takes delight in using her power against those who have a different view of the world.  Is that the Queen Victoria that you’ve gotten to know through your research?

Shrabani:  Absolutely.  It was a process of discovery for me as well.  When I started out, Queen Victoria was a very formidable person dressed in black whose most famous line was “we are not amused”.  I then discovered a very different side to Queen Victoria through her journals and realised how passionate she was about India.  Through her letters, I could see how she fought her household, her family and the British Prime Minister in defence of the Indians.  Most of the Brits were very racist.  They used derogatory names for the Indians in their correspondence.  She fought hard against the racism and also the class snobbery.  She was a feisty old woman and it’s wonderful.  It makes her very endearing.

Matt:  Abdul Karim is such an interesting individual given his closeness and influence over the Queen.  Is his story particularly well known in India?

Shrabani:  Not at all.  Nobody knows anything about him.  I went to find his grave in Agra and nobody knew where he was buried.  It took us 3 days searching through the graveyards of Agra before we finally found it.  It was a desolate grave covered in rubble.  I told people that he was important and he was the closest confidant of Queen Victoria and nobody knew.  I felt his story had to be told.

Matt:  Do you know if the film has had a chance to screen anywhere in India yet and what sort of reaction it might have received?

Shrabani:  It is opening in Indian cinemas on October 6.  It’ll be in English so it’ll be shown mainly in Metropolitan cinemas where there are a lot of English speakers amongst the middle class.  There is a lot of interest in it.  The book was a best seller in India for several weeks so I think it’ll do very well.  Everyone is very excited.

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  Are there any books we expect to see from you soon?

Shrabani:  I’m working on something that’s required several years of research.  It’s still ticking away and I’m sure you’ll hear about it when it comes out.