Ever wondered what the cue to get into heaven at St. Peter’s Gates is going to look like? Try standing in line for a preview screening of this little gem. The Daily Mail readers were out in force this morning, free tickets in hand and storming the cinema, to catch this charming story of a bunch of old folks retiring in India. Like the line for entry to heaven, there was regretfully the odd young person in the audience, no doubt terrified at the prospect of leaving their life behind to sit with all the oldies for what might seem like eternity.
But fortunately The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a charmer and even the youngest viewers will find something to enjoy here. Whether it’s Bill Nighy, again stealing the film from under the noses of an accomplished ensemble (see also Love Actually) or the sweet love story of the films only younger characters, the film has enough unexpected moments to mask the more predictable and clichéd elements of the story.
When seven British retirees opt to ‘outsource’ their retirements to cheap and cheerful India, they arrive at a hotel that is not as expected from the brochure. Dev Patel’s Sonny runs the place under the watchful eye of his disapproving mother and the visitors are left to dust off the furniture and make do with the cockroaches on the floors and the curry served up every dinnertime.
The stars of the movie are delightful; Judi Dench does vulnerable but determined; Bill Nighy funny and heartbreaking; and Tom Wilkinson quiet, reserved and struggling with an unexpected burden. It is a story of seven characters facing up to a new time of their lives with new challenges and new loves presenting themselves. It is a hopeful story about letting go of the past and embracing the future.
Like any film set in the country, India is a central character. The colours, the faces, the smiles, the sounds, the hustle and bustle of the packed streets all assault the senses, not just for the characters but also for the viewer. You might see less of the real India than many would like, but it is always present in the background.
The love stories are touching with the ups and downs of relationships sensitively written. The unwinding of Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton’s Douglas and Jean is particularly well handled and bound to induce the odd tear once the inevitable finally happens. Wilkinson’s search for a lost love is concluded a little too conveniently and lacks the emotional gut-punch it could have. But all the characters get their moments in the spotlight; whether it is bigoted old racist Maggie Smith’s opening of her heart to the locals or Ronald Pickup’s desperate search for a last bit of nookie (ahem sorry… meaningful connection).
The elderly members of the audience loved it, laughing heartily from the opening moments of Dench on the phone to her internet service provider. More unsettling was how many found Maggie Smith’s Muriel and her hideously outdated racist comments at the beginning even funnier. Hopefully the Daily Mail readers, like Muriel, will come away from the film with a slightly enlightened view of the world outside their doors.
Overall, Dench and Nighy are the standouts, but Wilkinson also gets a strong storyline in a film chock-full to the brim with colour, joy, a little bit of sadness and hardship and a lot of hope. Just like India itself then.