The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – review

Despite an impressive cast, this piece of bittersweet exotica belongs on continuous loop in your nearest Post Office

The cast are spry, but this bittersweet comedy about English retirees in India needs a Stannah chairlift to get it up to any level of watchability, and it is not exactly concerned to do away with condescending stereotypes about old people, or Indian people of any age. It's a film which looks as if it has been conceived to be shown on a continuous loop in a Post Office queue.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, directed with a sure hand by John Madden. The premise is interesting: older people find themselves swept to South Asia by globalised market forces. A chaotic and dilapidated hotel in Jaipur run by a fast-talking but hopeless young entrepreneur called Sonny (Dev Patel) offers itself to UK customers looking to "outsource" their retirement-care needs. Maggie Smith plays against Downton type as Muriel, a grumpy old cockney bigot; Judi Dench is Evelyn, a melancholy widow; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are a quarrelsome couple; Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup are roguish older singletons with a twinkle in the eye and some lead in the pencil, and Tom Wilkinson is Graham, the former High Court judge nursing a secret.

Some of these people are nice, and some are nasty, and this naturally affects the speed at which the teeming wonders of India will open them up to real, life-affirming values. The realities of commerce are notionally present in the form of a call centre, where Evelyn gets a very unlikely job, advising the employees, including Sonny's girlfriend, on the cultural niceties of talking to Brits and phone manners in general. Her workload appears pretty civilised and gentle and supervisory, which makes this a very laidback call centre.

There's no doubt that this is a very impressive cast doing their best with genteel characters, though I would have liked to see Catherine Tate's famously plain-speaking gran get in there and perk things up. Nothing in this insipid story does anything like justice to the cast's combined potential. Theoretically we are in Rajasthan, but really we are off on a Saga holiday to Tea-with-Mussolini country, a world in which picturesque oldsters, out of their comfort zone, demonstrate vulnerability, vitality and pluck.

This is not to say that there isn't a scattering of nice moments. Nighy capering with joy and attempting to do a high five after fixing a tap is an entertaining spectacle, and Wilkinson brings a certain gravitas to the proceedings. But it is oddly like an Agatha Christie thriller with all the pasteboard characters, 2D backstories and foreign locale, but no murder.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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