Should you take a trip to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel this weekend, it’s more than likely that you’ll know what to expect. When a selection of Britain’s most famous acting treasures, not to mention a couple of dames, are strategically placed amidst the sights, colours and smells of that most vibrant of countries, India, it’s a safe bet that you will enjoy fine acting, light, deft touches with some splendid seductive scenery. Comic moments are assured thanks to the culture shock but none are likely to offend. After all, you know that it’s very unlikely that the British ‘elderly and beautiful’ who have been removed from their comfort zone most brutally will be as racist at the end of the two hours as they are at the beginning of it.
Judi Dench (Evelyn), Tom Wilkinson (Graham), Bill Nighy (Douglas), Maggie Smith (Muriel), Ronald Pickup (Norman), Penelope Wilton (Jean – Douglas’ wife) and Celia Imrie (Madge) have been seduced by a brochure proclaiming the magisterial and domed raj splendour of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. Unfortunately, on their arrival, they discover that the hotel has been photoshopped beyond all recognition and reality by its young manager (and a third favourite son) Sonny (Dev Patel). But, as the new arrivals come to terms – or not – with the ‘quirks’ of their accommodation, they each learn something about themselves, each other and the nature of growing old. In India, age is revered and respected, in Britain, it’s inconvenient and can be lonely.
While some of the Brits search for friendship or independence, others are after something more immediate, whether it’s an old friend or a new hip. Sonny has his own battles to fight, in love with an unsuitable girl and with a rather intimidating mother. Not to mention a hotel that is falling down around him. But despite the ramshackle shape of the Marigold Hotel, most of the guests are soon discovering the India around them, meeting the locals, experiencing its culture, taboos, religion and its intense busyness.
Despite my cynicism and a slight unfamiliarity with being the youngest member of a cinema audience, I gave in to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and allowed it to do its work. I particularly liked the film because, although it did give me what I expected and did it very well indeed, there were surprises, little shocks and moments of genuine feeling. It made me laugh repeatedly but it also made me do a fair bit of weeping. I can be a sentimental soul if the mood is right and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel hits that mood perfectly. There are a couple of stories here that were much more captivating than I expected. Having them brilliantly acted certainly didn’t hurt.
I daresay none of the fine actors here had any trouble but I’m glad to say it did look like they put in the effort, complemented and buoyed up as that effort is by the charm and exuberance of Dev Patel. There is no doubt that India has had a bit of a sheen put on it, however the divisions and prejudice within Indian society are as evident here as they are among the Brits. I would have liked the relationship between Maggie Smith’s character with her doctor and the maid developed further but there were quite a few stories for the film to cover and more than one of them could have filled a movie on its own.
There is something very pleasing about cinema targeting a movie to a less targeted element of the population and the success of the film at the British box office is testament that an older audience is out there waiting, many of whom don’t sit and text through a movie.