The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows the journey of an assortment of aging Britons who decide to “outsource” their retirement to India. Whether single, divorced or widowed, each member of the eclectic bunch has something drawing them to the land of colours: from medical reasons to a longing for independence and even the prospect of marriage to a rich maharaja.
When the retirees arrive at the hotel, the scene that awaits them looks nothing like the advertisements. They are met instead with an old, rundown establishment and its earnest young manager, hopeless dreamer Sonny (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire), whose mantra is, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”
Despite this slight putout, most of the guests begin to embrace India and their new home, dubbed by the madcap Sonny as “A home for the elderly so wonderful, that they will simply refuse to die!”
His enthusiasm is contagious and Evelyn, played to perfection by Judi Dench, begins to enjoy her newfound independence in the wake of her husband’s death. “This is a new and different world. The challenge is to cope with it. And not just cope but thrive.”
Other standouts in the very solid cast are an extremely likeable Bill Nighy playing it (mostly) straight as a man in an unhappy marriage and Maggie Smith as a shockingly racist woman forced to travel for a hip transplant. Her erratic behaviour and one-liners are laugh-out-loud funny. Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie also star.
Marigold Hotel is directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, who said of writing it: “I wanted to explore questions of race and mortality but I also wanted it to be funny.” I haven’t read the book, but the onscreen adaptation certainly fulfils her wishes.
This film’s strength lies in its older characters, which are much more developed than the young Indian couple and other supporting roles. Its denouement is ultimately predictable and should have been better but, by the time it rolls around, you care far more about the individual plight of each retiree than the fate of the hotel and these, at least, are largely rich and satisfying.