By Hardeep Matharu

From the director of Shakespeare in Love (John Madden), Britain’s finest acting talent comes together in this comedy drama which explores how to let go of the past by embracing the present. 

Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel and Celia Imrie – to name but a few – a group of Brits decide to spend their retirement at a luxurious hotel for the “elderly and beautiful” in India.  They are tempted by exotic advertisements for the newly-restored Marigold Hotel, but arrive to find an altogether more modest new home.  

The structure of life in India is not what they are expecting either, but the group’s lives are changed forever as they begin to adapt and open their eyes to what they want from their futures. 

From learning how to barter in the markets of Jaipur, to understanding how India’s people “treat life as a privilege and not as a right”, the characters discover they are not too set in their ways to change – but only they can make it happen…   

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a coming of age tale with an interesting twist – an older group of people find themselves at a crossroads much later in life, rather than the angst-ridden teenagers usually examined in this genre.  

The stellar cast bring the fears and hopes of each character alive with authenticity and is a great ensemble to watch.   The characters compliment and contrast with each other well and the audience can feel they are sharing their journeys. 

The character of young hotel manager Sonny (Patel) is juxtaposed nicely with the group, reminding them of the aspirations and optimism of youth.  Sonny is determined to follow his instincts in life, much to the dismay of his traditional mother.  But, his philosophy – “Everything will be alright in the end and, if it’s not, then it’s not the end” – rubs off on the group eventually.   

Using India as the main setting is an effective way to take the characters out of their comfort zones and allow them to reap more life experience.  Their new way of life comes unexpectedly at first and their adaptation to it is portrayed in a light-hearted and poignant way – representing the fragility of the lives we think we know, and can come to lead, so well.                                                        

Maggie Smith’s character for instance – a rude and charmless lady who exhibits mild racism and packs Hobknobs, pickled eggs and builders’ tea in her suitcase – comes to embrace India, even visiting the meagre home of a cleaner she is alone in speaking to at the Hotel. 

But the characterisation suffers from a plot which appears contrived and, in certain respects, the film tries a little too hard to portray its central message – at the expense of delivering true emotiveness.  Cliches are used throughout, and I suppose the real challenge in portraying a ‘coming of age’ story engagingly lies in achieving this without them.     

India is a great character in itself for the audience to enjoy and this raw and exotic setting is what the film hangs on – the same impact would not have been achieved if the characters merely upped sticks to any Western European destination.  That the originality of having India as a major character is not matched by the originality of the plot, however, is disappointing.  

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a well-made, well-acted film with a fantastic setting and interesting subject matter.  What it lacks is an effortless and natural plot – instead, placing the characters in stock situations which then easily convey the film’s central themes.  I am not sure how many teenagers would go and see it, but there is plenty to be learnt for all who do.

[rating=3]

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.