Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John Madden
Stars: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Tena Desae, Lillette Dubey.
In this day and age, it seems that everything is being outsourced to India, even retirement.
Lured by advertisements for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, a group of elderly British pensioners relocate to Jaipur in India to escape the demeaning and suffocating prospects for the elderly in England. But the Marigold Hotel is a far cry from its glory days, despite the warm promises of its enthusiastic youthful owner and inexperienced manager Sonny (Dev Patel, from Slumdog Millionaire, etc), the son of the former owner. The place is crawling with cockroaches, rooms are missing doors, there is no hot water, the plumbing is unreliable, and the telephones don’t work. However, Sonny promises that he will make the ramshackle hotel such a magnificent place that the elderly “will simply refuse to die.”
At first these elderly expatriates all react to their new and exotic surroundings in different ways. Some embrace the change, while others resist the rich and diverse cultural delights of their new home.
Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a recent widow who has come to India to escape the past and finds a new lease on life. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a newly retired judge who spent much of his early years in India and has come to find peace and reconnect with a guilty secret from his past. “It’s going to be extraordinary,” he reassures his fellow travellers.
Finding retirement units in England far too expensive, Douglas (Bill Nighy) and his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) have reluctantly come to India. Douglas embraces the many delights of India while his bitter and shrewish wife Jean refuses to leave the hotel and loudly complains about everything.
Madge (Celia Imrie) is hoping to find a new husband among the rich expatriates of the former colony, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is an ageing Lothario hoping to try his luck on the subcontinent. Muriel (Maggie Smith) has begrudgingly come for a hip operation and spends most of her time in shock and disapproval at what she sees.
Sonny meanwhile is defying his strict mother (Lillette Dubey), who wants him to marry into a well-off family, as he is in love with the beautiful Sunaina (Tena Desae), who works in a local call centre. As Sonny says: “Everything will be all right in the end; if it is not all right then it is not the end.”
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel looks at what it means to become old and infirm in today’s world. However, director John Madden suffuses the material with a wonderful spirit of optimism, pathos and generous doses of humour. The film has been adapted from Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things by screenwriter Oliver Parker (It Was An Accident, etc), but its tone is somewhat uneven, and some of the characters come across as broad stereotypes.
Madden makes good uses of the Indian locations as his veteran cinematographer Ben Davis (Stardust, Kick-Ass, etc) captures the colourful, bustling streets of Jaipur. Madden draws upon the marvellous contrasts of India, from its overcrowded, poverty-stricken slums to the natural beauty of its landscapes. The sights, sounds and smells are brought vividly to life.
The performances of the ensemble cast are all uniformly good. This is Dench’s third film for Madden, having played Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown and Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare In Love. Smith chews the scenery as the dour Muriel, who eventually succumbs to the charms of the place. Patel however, tends to overact and his over the top style and lack of subtlety contrasts with the performances from the veteran thespians.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a warm, amusing and occasionally poignant film that is aimed at older audiences who are rarely catered for in today’s youth-obsessed cinema.