One look at the cast-list of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and you would be forgiven for thinking that the film is aimed, specifically, at an ‘older’ audience (a market for whom targeted films are pretty rare). However, this is a film that is suitable for anyone – particularly those with a hunger for adventure and travel – so prepare to laugh, cry and be inspired.
Directed by John Madden – who is perhaps best known for Shakespeare in Love – the film has so far attracted mainly rave reviews for its emphatic statement that life does not end once you become ‘old’. Rather, it re-starts.
Based on the book These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, the film follows a bunch of strangers who meet by chance when they all decide to check into the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. All with various reasons to leave their current lives in England, the hotel promises luxury, freedom and change.
However, the hotel is not exactly what the brochure promised – a flock of birds reside in one of the bedrooms, the telephones don’t work and you can practically hear the sound of the walls crumbling. But, despite all this, the majority of the characters fall in love with the place, as well as the gorgeous setting. The camera work is sumptuous: on screen, the vivid colours and scorched heat of India come alive.
Admittedly the characters are rather stereotyped. There’s Evelyn, the plucky widow who is finally breaking out from the shadow of her late husband; Graham, the pompous high court judge who returns to India in the hope of finding his lost love; Douglas and Jean, a married couple who are drifting apart; Norman the lonely lothario; and Madge, the gold-digger divorcee. Perhaps most shocking of all is Muriel, a horribly racist woman who, in a deliciously ironic twist of fate, is forced to come to India in order to undergo a hip replacement operation. However, by the end of the film, Muriel gradually realises that her prejudices are utterly pointless – and she becomes instrumental to the hotel’s future.
The trip to the hotel forces the characters to face the various issues that have been lurking in their lives, and by the end of the film, it feels as if they have all undergone a transformation as the result of checking-in. My favourites were Ronald Pickup’s Norman and Judi Dench’s Evelyn, but each of the characters had their own merits and faults, making them all appear to be real.
Most impressive of all is Dev Patel (he of Skins and Slumdog Millionaire fame), who, at the tender age of 21, held his own most admirably amongst this cast of screen heavy-weights. He played Sonny, the young hotelier who is trying to prove himself, impress his mother and get Sunaina, the girl of his dreams (who his mother just so happens to disapprove of). And who said men couldn’t multi-task?