Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Ronald Pickup – if you assemble a cast like that, you could get them to read the phone book and it would be entertaining. It would be tough to get them to make something that wasn’t at least worth a look, and thankfully although The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a relatively slight tale, it’s never less than charming.
Dench, Smith, Nighty, Wilkinson, Imrie, Wilton and Pickup play a group of aging Brits, who for one reason and another respond to an advert for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The ad promises an Indian idyll where retirees can live out their days in luxury that brings to mind the days of the Raj. After a rather problematic journey to the hotel, the reality turns out to be rather different than what was promised, with the hotel falling to bits and little of the advertised luxury.
The reality of life in India turns out to be different to what most of the pensioners expected, forcing them all to revaluate their lives. Dench’s Evelyn must come to terms with the death of her husband and her newfound freedom, Imrie’s Made and Pickup’s Ronald are dealing with the question of whether romance is over for them and married couple Douglas and Jean (Nighy and Wilton) begin to realise that there’s something wrong with their relationship. There’s also Graham (Wilkinson), who’s come to India looking for something from his past, and the racist Muriel (Smith), who only agrees to go to India so she can quickly get a hip replacement, but inevitably comes to appreciate a place she initially seems determined to hate.
It’s a gentle tale that offers few surprises, but it’s told well with simple but assured direction from John Madden (Shakespeare In Love) and performances that are as strong as you’d expect from such a luminous cast. Despite the great list of acting greats, it is Dev Patel who leaves the biggest impression as the idealistic manager of The Best Exotic, whose eternally optimistic (if rather misleading) attitude is constantly in danger of being swamped by reality.
A sweet and uplifting tale, it may be relatively slight but does have some interesting things to say about getting older – from the way younger people start treating you as useless, to the various ways that age forces you to make changes in life, whether it’s through bereavement, divorce or adapting to a changing world. In the end it’s not India that’s the problem for these people, but coming to terms with the issues in their life that arriving on the subcontinent is an attempt to escape – well, not all of them, as Wilkinson’s Graham has another reason to be there.
Sadly the only special feature on the DVD is an incredibly short ‘making of’ featurette, which only clocks in at two and a half minutes. If you want anything more you’ll have to get your hands on the slightly fuller extras package of the Blu-ray.
Overall Verdict: Sweet, funny and sometimes moving, it might be a little too bright and breezy for its own good at time, but thanks to a great cast and charming script, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a bit of a Brit treat.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac