The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel comes with an impressive pedigree. Director John Madden, and stars Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson have all won or been nominated for an Oscar, and between them, the entire cast has won a host of BAFTAs. Alongside Dench, Smith and Wilkinson, the cast also includes Dev Patel, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton. But despite such celebrated stars, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not an easy sell as a movie. Although there are funny lines in the trailer, on paper the plot is not an exciting one. 7 retirees read about a hotel in India that promises a home for the ‘elderly and beautiful’, and all of them make the decision to go there for different reasons.
Nighy and Wilton play Douglas and Jean, a couple married for 39 years, but who have lost their life savings after investing in their daughter’s internet company which has failed to take off. Dench plays Evelyn, a woman forced to sell her home to pay off her recently deceased husband’s debts and Wilkinson is Graham, a judge who makes a sudden decision to retire and return to India to face up to a part of his life that has haunted him for years. Maggie Smith plays the bitter and racist Muriel who must travel to India for hip surgery, while Ronald Pickup as Norman and Celia Imrie as Madge play characters who refuse to act their age, and are on the lookout for new partners.
Dev Patel plays Sonny, the manager of the hotel, a relentlessly positive man who believes he can make the hotel a success, despite the building needing extensive work to really make it hospitable. And when the Brit group arrive, they are less than impressed with what they find. The premise so far isn’t really a particularly original one. The Inbetweeners Movie also had a group of Brits arriving in a foreign country and finding things to be different than they expected, but as the cast should tell you, this is a more mature and restrained film. There are some nice laughs, but this is more of a drama, with each character facing up to the realities of their lives and making important decisions as a result.
Each star is given their own chance to shine in the film, and while some of their stories may be a little clichéd, the performances are strong enough to let you see past that and just enjoy what each brings. Bill Nighy and Judi Dench are particularly impressive, as Douglas embraces life in India while growing apart from his wife Jean, while Evelyn learns to stand on her own two feet, learning how to use the internet and getting herself a job in India. But it’s almost unfair to highlight any of the stars above the others. This is a great collective effort by a group of actors who know exactly what they need to bring to each role. It is a charming and affecting small movie, which proves that a great script with great actors can result in a great film, regardless of the genre or the story.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may not be for everyone, but if you take a chance on it, you will be rewarded.