It is not uncommon to hear people moan that older actors, particularly women of a certain age, are not sufficiently provided for in terms of proper, leading roles in mainstream cinema. This complaint is not an unfair one. But The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, whilst not perfect, does try to right that wrong.
It’s a joyful, sweet comedy drama, adapted from a novel by Deborah Moggach, about a group of Britons in their twilight years who travel to India to stay at the hotel of the title. But their new home in a warmer climate is not as perfect as they might expect. It’s run by Dev Patel, an enthusiastic but struggling young businessman desperately trying to make a success of the building his family have given up on.
Judi Dench, playing a widow who is forced to sell her home due to financial problems, becomes the star of the show. The other leads consist of Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as a married couple, Tom Wilkinson as a high court judge who has travelled to India to look for a long-lost love, Celia Imrie and Ronal Pickup as two single people looking for romance, and Maggie Smith as a grouchy old bigot having a hip replacement. They are all marvellous, of course, and it is a joy to see this many great British actors in one film. And it isn’t even a Harry Potter movie!
For some, the tone may feel a little patronising, and the depictions of elderly people grappling with a new country and culture (or wireless broadband) may come over as clichéd. But director John Madden does it all with such warmth and sense of fun I found it impossible not to be swept up in it all.
This film deserves its success. It plays to an appreciative target audience and gives them what they want. And I hope young people will also go to see it too. It isn’t just for the over 50s. It’s for anyone who likes good storytelling and vibrant characters.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), directed by John Madden, is distributed in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 12A.