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Review: the best exotic marigold hotel


A charming feel-good film boasting an all-star British cast...

If you’re going to make a film which requires an ensemble cast of over-60's, then you may as well go for the best. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel John Madden has certainly done just that. Judi Dench leads a cast of vintage British thesps the quality and quantity of which you rarely see outside of a Harry Potter film these days.  

Judi Dench plays Evelyn, a widow whose late husband’s debts force her to sell her house. A reluctance to give in to old age and the well-meaning but patronizing care of her children fuels an impulsive decision to move to a home for for seniors in India. She is joined on the trip by retired lawyer Graham who is searching for his lost teenage love and squabbling husband and wife Douglas and Jean played by Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton respectively.  Also along for the ride are Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) who are both looking for love. The group is completed by Muriel (Maggie Smith) who is, not to put too fine a point on it, the racist one (her reason for going being to dodge the UK waiting list for a hip replacement)

They are all bound for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which is advertised as a luxurious residence for the retired. Upon arriving they find the hotel to be dilapidated and quite unlike its photoshopped brochure. The advertised luxurious facilities exist only in the future vision of the hotel's well meaning, romantic and yet hapless manager Sonny, played by Dev Patel. After their arrival the story unfolds as each character goes on their own (sigh) journey of self discovery. However, the cast's considerable talent as well as some picturesque filmography and a script that provides genuine laughs prevents this ever feeling too convoluted or formulaic.

With such a number of actors competing for screen time the individual stories do become a touch one-dimensional but still intertwine and spark off each other well. The standout performance has to be from Nighy as Douglas, a man who abandons his buttoned down ways to embrace a different life in a new country. In fact, the slow disintegration of George’s  marriage proves to be the most well pitched of the separate narratives. The inability of George's skittish, status-obsessed wife Penelope to embrace India’s culture is both believable and saddening as it visibly drives them down diverging paths. Elsewhere each character’s story unfolds in a satisfying, if occasionally predictable, manner. It's pleasing to note that despite the focus on the older talents the increasingly confident Dev Patel isn't sidelined. Whilst his own romance story isn't the strongest he does deliver some of the films best lines including: “I have a dream. To create a home for the elderly so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die”.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel itself is clearly intended as an extra character though it never quite convinces as a location. The plot requires the building to be both severely dilapidated and also a sort of rustic gold-tinted Indian paradise. Where the decision to film on location in India really pays off is when the action moves to the chaotic and colourful city streets. Whilst the film’s depiction of life in India is certainly rose-tinted and lacks the immersive dynamism of a movie like Slumdog Millionaire (the poverty is there but it never intrudes significantly into the film's consciousness) this doesn't  detract from the experience. The softening of reality is in keeping with the film’s overall tone and the setting provides a beautiful and perennially golden backdrop to the story.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is unlikely to end up on any top ten lists or win many awards this year but it is, in the very best sense, a warm hearted and feel-good film. Even with it's rose-tinted view it never cloys or alienates the viewer and a truly remarkable cast make it a worthwhile watch.

3 stars


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