Ol Parker’s warm and witty script provides the predominantly British cast with moments to shine and tug our heartstrings as love is lost and found beneath a foreign sun.
Director John Madden, who previously helmed the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love, captures a different side to life in modern India than the poverty and crime of Slumdog Millionaire.
The teeming streets of Rajasthan burst with colour and vitality and composer Thomas Newman adds plenty of spice with his evocative score.
Performances are an embarrassment of riches, from Maggie Smith’s racist housekeeper, who surveys a black nurse at her local hospital and sneers, “He can wash all he likes - that colour’s not coming out”, to Penelope Wilton’s well-to-do wife, who constantly belittles her husband, telling him, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
Our opinion of Madden’s film is extremely favourable.
Evelyn (Judi Dench) has recently lost her husband and is coming to terms with solitude in her twilight years.
Determined to start anew, she abandons Britain for the balmier climes of Jaipur and a grand retirement home called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
En route, Evelyn meets six other retirees all bound for this “luxury development for residents in their golden years”: cantankerous wheelchair user Muriel (Smith), who is bypassing the NHS waiting lists to undergo a hip replacement abroad; waspish snob Jean (Wilton) and her long-suffering husband Douglas (Bill Nighy); retired judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson); incorrigible ladies’ man Norman (Ronald Pickup); and love-hungry spinster Madge (Celia Imrie).
When the exhausted travellers arrive at their destination, they discover a building in disrepair and an inexperienced manager, Sonny (Dev Patel), struggling to keep the creditors off his back.
“I have a dream to outsource old age. And it is not just for the British. There are other countries that hate old age!” he excitedly informs his dubious guests.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delight, milking laughter and tears as characters reach crossroads in their lives.
Like The King’s Speech, it’s a film with appeal across the generations, tapping into universal fears of being forgotten in old age.
Dench is the emotional heart, narrating drolly in voiceover, while Wilkinson delivers a beautifully nuanced performance as a man with heartbreaking ties to India.
Imrie and Pickup are delicious comic relief, the latter asked at one point, “Aren’t you scared about having sex at your age?”
Without missing a beat, he replies, “If she dies, she dies!”
Smith is in imperious form as a xenophobic working-class battle-axe, who shuns Indian food in favour of packets of chocolate biscuits because, “I don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce.”
Age hasn’t dulled her rapier wit.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 9/10
Released: February 24 (UK & Ireland), 123 mins