A group of elderly strangers, mostly OAPs and recent retirees, each with their various British beefs about life at home, check into a dilapidated hotel in India. With little more than their autumn years and UK passports in common, their reactions to this new environment are varied: some fall in love with the land of colour and life, where others find there’s plenty to moan about. Biscuit-loving Muriel (Smith), for example, is unapologetically racist, despite benefitting from excellent Indian healthcare; Douglas (the ever brilliant Nighy) is illuminated by India, while his wife Jean finds the journey intolerable; Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) are more intent on getting a jump for their old bones. The list extends to several more characters including the young proprietor of the hotel, Sonny (Patel from Slumdog Millionaire).
The form is by now achingly familiar and, thanks to the likes of Richard Curtis and chums, a mainstay of modern cinema. I am of course referring to the practice of taking a dozen or so of the best (or most fashionable) acting talents currently working, giving them each 10-15 minute’s worth of story and weaving them all into a two-hour multi-stranded narrative. Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993) achieved this masterfully whereas films like Crash or comedy dramas such as Love Actually and Valentine’s Day, did the same to arguably lesser effect. A nauseating tendency is to resolve all the story strands by predictably tying them up into a neatly contrived bow. Director John Madden (Shakespeare In Love, Mrs Brown – also featuring Dame Judi) hasn’t broken the mould here, but it’s so agreeable, you almost forgive its contrivances.
The authentic locations are magnificent. Nighy provides genuine belly laughs. Tom Wilkinson’s character Graham, who is searching for a childhood friend, provides a moving counterpoint to much of the high-jinks. It’s also a pleasure to see Dame Judi outside her restrictive Bond gig, providing proof she’s still got her sparkles. In short: a disappointingly familiar form with surprisingly charming content. Take your mum.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (3)
Dir: John Madden; UK dramedy, 2012, 124 mins;
Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel
Premiered March 22