Starring | Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton
Writer | Ol Parker
Director | John Madden
Run-Time | 124 minutes
Plot | Seven newly retired Brits trade in Blighty for an exotic (and seemingly cut price) hotel retreat in India. When they arrive, the hotel has fallen from grace and not what they expect. The group strives to make the experience work, making some lifelong friends along the way.
Review | On paper, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should be halfway to being amazing from the ensemble casting alone. British cinema and Hollywood stalwarts Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith are all talents of the finest pedigree. Director John Madden also has a solid repertoire in his back catalogue (including Shakespeare In Love, and Mrs. Brown), so this should be a marriage made in cinema heaven. And it just about is.
Ol Parker’s adaptation of Deborah Moggarch’s These Foolish Things is a warm, and (generally) uplifting affair. It is moving, and it is witty. And it has these things in just about the right amount throughout. It’s characters are unique, and have a depth to their personalities that can be related to on some level. And they feel real.
Evelyn (Dench) is newly widowed and struggling for independence, with her son believing she should live with him, and takes her decisions for her. As a sign of defiance, she moves to India. Dench is perfect at portraying the apprehensive, yet bold personality. She is petrified and has never done anything before in her life, but that just means she’ll just have to give it a go and see what happens.
Douglas (Nighy) and Jean (Wilton) are a long-married couple that have invested most of their money in their daughters internet-based company. Whilst waiting for the returns to come in from that, they are borderline broke and take the first opportunity to get away from what little they can afford in England. Nighy is brilliant in the role of the adventurous and loyal, yet clumsy doting husband. Wilton’s Jean is a pessimistic perfectionist, who continually doubts their choice to go abroad.
Muriel (Smith) is a retired housemaid with a chip on her shoulder, and a whole host of prejudices within. Only taking the trip to get a more affordable and quicker hip transplant, the prospect of such a foreign country visibly gets to her. Smith shows her range and depth in this role. She takes what begins as a very unlikable, bigoted character and moulds into a vulnerable, human role.
Graham (Wilkinson) is a high court judge that simply decides that one day, enough is enough, and packs in his job. Having lived in India in his youth, he takes the chance to go back and find some closure on some unfinished business from 40 years previously. Wilkinson shows his mastery here, with an understated calm that is genuinely amiable.
Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a lonely self-styled Casanova, looking for love in any place he can find it. Blatantly in for the quick gag and cheap laugh, Pickup’s character has it’s own depth that is revealed over the course of the film.
Then there is Madge (Imrie) who is also looking for love, romance, (or anything close!) after a series of unsuccessful marriages. Imrie revels in showing her mischievous side, and provides a welcome, contemporary outlook in the group.
Finally, Dev Patel plays Sonny, the enthusiastic, but naïve hotel owner. Patel brings a freshness and genuine happiness to the role. You believe that he loves the hotel, and you believe that he thinks it is an amazing place to stay. He is also a great source of humour throughout including gems such as: “I have a dream. To create a home for the elderly so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die!”.
These eight provide the laughs and jokes, thrills and spills – and odd sets of tears, set to a beautiful juxtaposition of the some of the best (culture, vibrance) and worst (pollution, poverty) that India has to offer. Combined, it makes for a compelling, if simple, story that will warm the coldest of hearts.
The Verdict | A simple plot is given an original setting. That combined with some quality performances on both sides of the camera means that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is easily accessible by a wide target audience, and delivers on most of it’s promise with a wit and charm befitting of any uplifting summery hit.