British comedy drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel features a stellar cast including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson, who play a group of retirees who travel to the titular hotel in India. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to all of the main characters in a series of short vignettes that show their different situations in the UK and their reasons for moving abroad.
Evelyn (Judi Dench)’s husband has recently passed away and she needs to sell their flat to pay off his debts. Douglas (Bill Nighy) invested his retirement money in his daughter’s internet start-up, which hasn’t been very successful. His wife Jean (Penelope Wilton, who was also married to Nighy’s character in Shaun of the Dead) isn’t impressed with the retirement properties they can afford in the UK. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) has just retired as a judge and is returning to the place where he lived when he was younger. Muriel (Maggie Smith) needs a hip replacement. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are both single and looking for love and new adventures.
They are all enticed by advertisements for ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the elderly & beautiful’, which looks impressive and vibrant, and is less expensive than places in the UK. When they arrive, they discover that it’s not what they were led to believe as the hotel is rundown, dusty, and in need of some serious restoration. Sonny (Dev Patel), the young man who owns it, is trying to renovate it and is very happy when his first tenants move in. Sonny’s brothers have successful businesses but so far he has failed to live up to his mother’s expectations. She wants him to give up his dreams about the hotel and agree to an arranged marriage. He is in love with a young woman called Sunaina but his mother disapproves of her.
Some of the retirees embrace the new culture while others take an instant dislike to it and don’t want to try new things. Graham is the one who seems most at home there and his story about his past in the country is very moving. As they start to forge bonds with each other and explore their colourful surroundings, each of their stories heads towards a resolution. These are mostly satisfying, if a little predictable.
Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things. It features eight different stories, with some getting a little side-lined along the way. It would have been good to see more of Madge and Norman, who have a number of great lines, including Norman misquoting Ivan Drago from Rocky IV: “If she dies, she dies.” Although this would’ve meant adding to the already long running time. The film ends predictably but optimistically, with everything working out as expected. As Sonny says: “Everything will be all right in the end, and if it not alright, it is not yet the end.” It is the talented cast and beautiful scenery that make this charming tale enjoyable, especially for older audiences.