Based on the best-selling novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those quintessentially British comedy-dramas that blends elements of Merchant Ivory and Noël Coward, and even finds room for a sprinkle of Carry On.
The story follows a diverse group of British retirees who, confronted with the unappetising prospect of spending their golden years shuffling around nursing homes in Blighty, decide instead to book a passage to India. Among the group is a retired judge (Tom Wilkinson) hoping to reclaim his past; an ill-matched couple (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton); a wheelchair-bound Xenophobe (Maggie Smith) and two singletons, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie, who still haven’t given up on their quest to find the perfect partner.
Though it’s very much an ensemble piece, the story unfolds through the eyes of Evelyn (Judi Dench), a recent widow looking for a fresh start in life and hoping to find it at the gloriously named hotel of the title. Naturally, not all is what it seems at this seemingly idyllic venue, run by the well-meaning but inefficient Dev Patel.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a frothy but entertaining comedy which showcases the cream of British talent (and some impressive Indian newcomers). Though it does touch upon the increasingly pertinent issue of how we, as a society, look after our elderly, that message fades as we follow the fortunes of the protagonists and get caught up in their individual challenges.
Given the quality of the cast on show, it’s no surprise that all of the acting is first-rate. Judi holds it all together and Dev Patel injects a dose of youthful energy into proceedings, but it’s Tom Wilkinson who gets the best storyline as he tracks down an Indian friend from his past. Having said that, if you were to look up the phrase 'scene-stealing role' in a dictionary, you’d probably find a picture of Maggie Smith as a wheelchair-bound Xenophobe. Watch out, too, for Tena Desae as Dev Patel’s gal pal: she’s just about the biggest star in India at the moment.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has its faults, notably the standard fish-out-of-water clichés – spicy food, mad traffic, cricket-playing street urchins – but overall, it’s a winsome yarn likely to put a smile on your face.