Dame Judi Dench is at her magisterial best in this madcap retirement romp
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A)
Verdict: Feelgood fun for the over 50s
We're used to depressing news stories about old people being treated with disrespect, so it’s a treat to see a feelgood movie in which elderly heroes triumph over adversity – and their own pessimistic expectations.
It has the added attraction of a superb British cast, headed by the incomparable Judi Dench.
She plays the recently bereaved Evelyn, who discovers the husband she depended on has left her only debts. If she is not to become a burden to her grown-up children, she must find somewhere cheap to live and – if possible – a job.
Passage to India: Judie Dench, left, and Celia Imrie triumph over adversity in this feelgood flick
Then there’s a High Court judge, Graham (Tom Wilkinson), brought up in India and possessed by an overwhelming need to return.
Maggie Smith takes a rest from playing posh to become Muriel, a former housekeeper with racist attitudes who wants a hip replaced as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play a discontented couple of 40 years who have lent their life-savings to a daughter and watched them evaporate.
Finally, there are singles on the prowl Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie), uneasily aware time is catching up on their much-diminished romantic prospects.
All seven find themselves at a Jaipur retirement home posing as a luxury hotel.
The shambolic pile is maladministered by an enthusiastic young Indian entrepreneur called Sonny (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire).
Quite apart from his inability to make money or run a hotel with anything resembling competence, Sonny is undergoing a personal crisis. He wants to marry a beauty from a call centre (Tena Desae), not follow the demands of his mother (Lillete Dubey) to sell the hotel and submit to the marriage she’s arranged for him.
If this sounds familiar, perhaps you have read the novel on which it is based, These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. Writer Ol Parker trims and simplifies the book effectively, while director John Madden (Mrs Brown, Shakespeare In Love) makes it all look attractively exotic.
Stellar cast: The film is entertaining, but its sometimes too easy to catch a glimpse of authorial strings
The noise and squalor of India, however, are downplayed, and none of the characters’ implicit sense of superiority over the locals is seriously challenged.
There’s no attempt to tackle the awkward question of how the characters are going to cope without the support of the NHS, either.
The writing is clunky at times. When characters undergo abrupt personality changes, it’s too easy to catch a glimpse of authorial strings of the puppets.
There are also too many ‘on the nose’ lines, such as when Sonny tells his girlfriend: ‘You’re part of a modern India my mother cannot welcome!’ A better movie would have shown, not told.
So don’t expect cutting-edge cinema. There’s a strong whiff of cosy, Sunday night TV. And Dev Patel over-compensates for the stately pace of the older characters with over-acting that occasionally grates.
Yet in a less than vintage week, the movie stands out – for its generally fine performances, goodness of heart and solid craftsmanship.
Judi Dench is touching and inspirational as an apparently helpless woman turning her life around.
Bill Nighy offers a side of his talent not usually seen on the big screen: a rage and power to go with his flair for diffident, ironic comedy.
I also admired the depth Penelope Wilton brings to a woman with few redeeming characteristics; it’s refreshing to see a film that treats its ‘baddies’ with generosity of spirit.
The whole thing is poignant, watchable and gently amusing. I can’t think of many people over 50 who would not enjoy it.
And it offers a welcome glow of Indian warmth in a cold winter. If you can’t afford a holiday right now, see this movie – it’s an entertaining alternative.