Love across the divide

Eddie Izzard plays Queen Victoria's power-hungry son opposite Judi Dench in Victoria & Abdul. He talks to Laura Harding.
AMBITIOUS: Eddie Izzard as Bertie, Prince of Wales from Victoria & Abdul. Picture: PA Photo/Focus Features/Peter Mountain.AMBITIOUS: Eddie Izzard as Bertie, Prince of Wales from Victoria & Abdul. Picture: PA Photo/Focus Features/Peter Mountain.
AMBITIOUS: Eddie Izzard as Bertie, Prince of Wales from Victoria & Abdul. Picture: PA Photo/Focus Features/Peter Mountain.

Eddie Izzard is “not into monarchy”. He makes that abundantly clear.

The multilingual stand-up comedian, marathon runner and political activist is flat out against all hereditary privilege.

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So it’s interesting to see him play a man who reaped all the benefits of that privilege, and a man Izzard believes contributed “absolutely nothing” to the world, Queen Victoria’s son Bertie, who would go on to become Edward VII.

After acting roles in plenty of films, including Valkyrie and Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen, he goes full period drama to star opposite Dame Judi Dench in new release Victoria & Abdul, which sees the Oscar winner reprise her role of the Queen in mourning 20 years after Mrs Brown made her a major film star.

It tells a version of the true and recently uncovered story of Victoria’s late-in-life friendship with an Indian servant, Abdul Karim, who came to England to present her with a coin in 1887 and ended up staying until her death in 1901.

Izzard,55, plays a villainous and scheming Bertie, who is frustrated at his long wait for the throne and livid that a foreign servant has gained such power and influence with his mother.

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The actor gained 26lb to fill out the rotund royal’s tweed suits, but sitting in a London hotel room on a brisk summer day, he is back to his slimline self. “I play a huge person in this,” he says. “People have said they didn’t realise it was me until the credits of the film. I put on 12 kilos for this and it’s a lot of tailoring and just the whole posture and whole attitude and how you move, that was a whole part. It was coming from the inside in this character and from the outside and meeting in the middle.”

The time he spent inhabiting the role, both physically and mentally, did not give him a favourable impression of the man who would be king (Eddie 7, as Izzard calls him).

“He doesn’t seem to be a particularly nice person, a particularly positive person.

“He is someone who had multiple sexual liaisons all across Europe with different women and I think he was married with kids but it was mainly sex, Dirty Bertie as he was known.

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“But in this film it’s not about that, it’s about ambitious Bertie, it’s about ‘mum, give me the ball’.

“The relationship between him and his mother, there was no love lost, as we say. He wanted to be king and she was stopping him being king. She was eating herself to death as we see at the beginning of the film, and then this guy Abdul Karim turns up, is rather chatty and forward with her, which everyone in the household disapproves of, and this gives her a new lease of life.

“She finds someone who is a soulmate, who is a lover of a non-sexual kind. It’s an emotional relationship and Bertie is really pissed off about it.

“It’s almost not about race, even though racism is in it, anyone who was going to get in his way of his chance to be king is going to annoy him and he’s going to hate them.”

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Bertie’s hunger for an inherited power is something Izzard staunching disapproves of.

“I’m not into monarchy. Hereditary privilege makes absolutely no sense in the 21st century,” he says firmly.

But he is realistic about they staying power of the royal families, adding: “I don’t think they are necessarily going away from Britain or other countries.

“The bicycle monarchy idea, which the Scandinavians, the Dutch monarchy have had, I think that is good.

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“Abdication, I think is a good thing. Hand over the baton, you’ve had enough time on the throne. Is it going to be that hellish if you retire and pass things on?

“I think judge people, everyone, by what they do in life, what do they add to the human existence, what do they add to the world that is valuable. “Edward VII, if you look at it, he added absolutely nothing or next to nothing. I think Victoria added next to nothing. She was just eating food.

“There is the word Victorian age and the Edwardian age but apart from that, I don’t think anything positive (came from them).

He is far more generous about the current Prince of Wales and his sons. “I think the kids now, I think Harry, I think William, I think Charles, at least they are trying to do stuff in a different way.That is what seven billion people in the world, even thought they are not all members of Britain, I think that is what people are looking for around the world, real human beings.

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“Hereditary privilege makes no sense to me, what example is it for kids? Kids grow up and say ‘why are some people are just born and given lots of money and everyone bows and scraps to them and they can do no wrong?’ Well there is no reason for it. Absolutely no reason for it.” He describes the friction between Victoria, Abdul and Bertie as “a story of another time” but he thinks it’s timely that a tale of love amidst prejudice is reaching cinemas now.

The actor, who campaigned for Labour in recent general elections and spoken of his ambitions for a political career, adds: “It’s a story of love across a great divide, at a time when hatred is abounding around the world. “Donald Trump is out there encouraging people to be hateful and saying horrible things and tweets and being very negative. Separation, run-and-hide type behaviour, it is is out there and a lot of us are saying ‘no, this is not the way the world should go forward, going back to the 1930s is not the way forward for humanity’.”

Victoria & Abdul is released in on September 15.

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