19 June 2013

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Dev Patel)

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from this, but it came highly recommended by various people - and since it featured both Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, as well as some other top names, we thought it would be worth seeing. All I knew was that several people set off for a retirement home in India, and found that it wasn’t quite what they were expecting...

The start of the film introduces us to the seven people who all end up travelling to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Judi Dench plays Evelyn, who has recently been widowed and really doesn’t know what to do with her life, or how she can afford to keep going. Maggie Smith plays Muriel, a woman who urgently needs a hip transplant, but does not want to have to wait several months for the NHS. She is very bigoted, so is not at all impressed with the idea of travelling to India for a quicker operation, but reluctantly agrees to it.

Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play Douglas and Jean, a married couple who are just retired, and really don’t know what they want. Jean is discontented, not wanting to settle down in a small flat, but not remotely interested in anything in India either. Douglas seems endlessly patient, but gets frustrated by her constant negativity.

More forgettable are Madge (Celia Imrie), Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Graham (Tom Wilkinson). Madge wants a wealthy husband, Norman wants a woman - any woman, but probably not Madge - and Graham is returning to India to catch up with his past; he lived there for a while as a young man.

We get to know each of these characters briefly in their homes and work environments; each of them finds the advert for the hotel, purporting to be a new and wonderful retirement home. Not all their travel arrangements go smoothly, but they eventually arrive... to find a young and cheerful host called Sonny (brilliantly played by Dev Patel) who somehow finds a reason - or excuse - for every one of the hotel’s deficiencies. And there are many... it needs major renovation and upgrading, and is a far remove from the wonderful, up-to-date residence that was advertised...

There’s a lot of humour in this film, and also some very moving moments. One or two parts are unexpectedly poignant, and much is thought-provoking. Criticisms have been made that the story is demeaning to India... yet the country is displayed in its colourful, chaotic glory; it’s the stuck-in-a-rut lifestyles and expectations of the Brits that are more caricatured.

There wasn’t a great deal of plot, but we enjoyed it very much. Not that one necessarily wants to think about retirement or growing old, but somehow that wasn’t the main focus. Some of the hotel’s residents gained a new lease of life as they discovered something - or someone - new.

Judi Dench is excellent, as always, but in my view Maggie Smith is the real star, transforming from an irritable old lady to someone observing everything that goes on, eventually taking on a very important role and looking twenty years younger. Dev Patel is also superb - and the whole was a great family movie.

Rated 12, probably because of a few instances of minor bad language and the racist inferences made in the early part of the film. Unlikely to be of much interest to anyone under the age of about 12 anyway.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

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