A sterling British cast, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson, ensure that John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) has the feel-good factor without the cloying sentimentality of some romantic comedies. Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, six English OAPs arrive in the Indian city of Jaipur in a bid to avoid stagnating in Britain. They are joined by Muriel (Smith) who has reluctantly travelled abroad for a hip operation.
Shortly after landing, the group head for the eponymous ‘retirement’ hotel run by the exuberant Sonny (Dev Patel). Sonny is attempting to resurrect his dead father’s business and restore the building to its former glory, whilst also working on winning the love of his sweetheart Sunaina (Tena Desae) – yet desperately needs funds and his mother’s approval. Despite the dilapidated state of the rooms, the elderly Brits decide to stay, and find themselves profoundly changed by their various experiences.
Evelyn (Dench) is mourning the death of a husband who left her a pile of debts and broken promises. Graham (Wilkinson) is a former High Court judge returning to India to find a lost love. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are in search of erotic adventure and last but by no means least, Douglas (Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are an argumentative couple unable to contemplate the prospect of moving into a retirement home together.
Despite the predictability of the plot, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel depicts a joyous journey that unfolds with genuine wit and warmth and with plenty of surprises along the way. This kind of bittersweet comedy is what the British do best, and it’s heartening to see a film that focuses on the rites of passage of the elderly. Although the transformation of Murial from irascible bigot to unlikely saviour of the hotel may seem overly neat, there is truth in her shift of ideals – she is motivated by a selfish desire to be needed rather than pure altruism.
Much of the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is down to its impressive ensemble cast. Nighy and Smith provide much of the laugh-out-loud humour, while Dench and Wilkinson both bring gravitas to their respective roles. Madden’s box office hit is also beautifully shot, with Ben Davis’ camera capturing all the colour, squalor and mayhem of Jaipur.