THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (M)
Selected cinemas (123 minutes)
Philippa Hawker Reviewer
A TRIP to Rajasthan in the company of, among others, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith it sounds like an appealing package, with some sort of guarantee of quality and dependability. But The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, trades a little too much on the appeal of its ensemble cast, and not enough on the strength of its narrative or its insights or even its comic touches.
It's the story of an assorted bunch of elderly British residents who decide to move to India. They have various reasons some are established in the opening scenes of the film, others emerge gradually. They are after a fresh start, a cheaper place to live, love or redemption what they find, of course, is not what they expected, beginning with the quality of the accommodation.
Dench plays a timid but positive woman, a widow who is not used to having any sense of control over her life. Not everyone in the party comes with any sense of optimism or goodwill, however. Smith portrays an embittered woman, cast aside after years in service, whose default position is xenophobia. And Jean (Penelope Wilton), married to the compulsively good-natured Douglas (Nighy), can't share his blithe approach she is alienated and unhappy, and is unwilling to make any effort to get to know the people or the place.
She's rather taken, however, with Graham (Tom Wilkinson) a retired judge who lived in India when he was young, who has the most interesting reason for finding his way to the Marigold. It's the strongest and most poignant storyline and its resolution leaves a gap in the film that can't really be filled. Figures such as the would-be lothario Norman (Ronald Pickup) seem to have been added simply for dubious comic relief, and could easily have been dispensed with.
The focus is firmly on the older generation, although there are younger figures in the film, locals such as the frenetically optimistic Sonny (Dev Patel) the owner and manager of the hotel, desperately trying to make a success of his role and trying to convince his and his girlfriend's family that he can be taken seriously. But they are minor figures, sketchily defined.
There is a way in which the choice of location itself seems arbitrary and under-used. It could be India, it could be Inner Mongolia, it could be the Outer Hebrides, it doesn't really matter otherness is the point, dislocation is the theme, getting your act together is the aim.
The film feels like a post-Raj retirement rom-com that takes its characters and its potential audience rather too much for granted.