The website reads “Welcome to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel… for the elderly and beautiful” and it is this slogan that encourages a group of seven seniors to up sticks and move from their retirements in the UK to stay in India. Based on a novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is directed by John Madden, whose most famous film to date is Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love. It unites a host of top British acting talent and was co-produced by Jim Broadbent and written by Ol Parker.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an Indian retirement ‘village’ operated, owned and run by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). A dispirate group of seven retirees decide to stay in the hotel for a variety of reasons, such as Evelyn (Judi Dench) who has lost her husband. High Court judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) returning to India to reconnect with his past. Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are trying to avoid the grey and depressing retirement homes in the UK. Muriel (Maggie Smith) who needs surgery on her hip and Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) both in search of love and passion.
Anyone who remembers the plot of Carry on Abroad will see more than a passing similarity in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A group of socially and morally diverse English people travel to a foreign land in search of the answers to the problems of their lives. Replace the bawdy humour and slapstick comedy with dramatic gravitas while recasting Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor with an unbelievable lineup including Oscar winners, nominees and TV and stage supremos, and you’re about there. This may seem like a negative, but with the cast Madden has put together, it isn’t.
Everyone is now aware of the quality and award-winning pedigree of the main cast, but to put them all in a film about the pitfalls of age, retirement and missed opportunity, move them to the exotic land of India and it is a masterstroke. Each of them receive their individual moments to shine, from the heart-breaking story of Wilkinson’s Graham to the uplifting, if cliched stories of Dench’s Evelyn and Smith’s Muriel. Wilton’s Jean might just steal the show though as the put-upon and thoroughly miserable Englishwoman abroad. Finding it difficult to settle in such a different culture, but without the money to fly home, hers is a performance that is a little less fluffy and predictable, although her ending, sadly, seems forced.
There is room for some nicely played socially observations, such as Evelyn’s phone call to a call centre in India and Muriel’s refusal to be treated by a non-English, by which she means, non-white doctor, but it rarely has the courage to step outside its thoroughly middle-class central thesis and investigate the crushing poverty and hardships of life for some in India.
While episodic and a little over-long (there’s really no need for the extended story’s of Madge and Norman), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a fun British fluff piece, dragged above mediocrity by the assembled super-cast.