Old dogs with a few tricks up their sleeves

2012-03-23 13:26

Film: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Nu Metro)
Director: John Madden
Featuring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel and Maggie Smith
Rating: 8/10

The cast list of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel pretty much tells the story – a motley crew of Britain’s feistiest actors “raging at the dying of the light” as Dylan Thomas so strongly recommends.

There’s Norman (Ronald Pickup), the old guy looking for a good time; Jean and Douglas (Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy), the couple who have invested their retirement money unwisely; Graham (Tom Wilkinson), the retired judge in search of his childhood love; Madge (Celia Imrie), the cougar on the prowl; and the widow, Evelyn (Judi Dench), who finds herself wallowing in debt after her husband’s death.

Making it seven is Maggie Smith as Muriel, who travels with them to jump the queue to get her hip replacement surgery.

This lot all answer the same advert and find themselves winging their way to Jaipur in India to take up residence in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the elderly and beautiful.

When they get there it isn’t quite the palace they’ve been led to believe – Photoshop seems to have been really kind – but with few options they chase the pigeons out of their rooms, fix their own taps and learn to live without a phone line.

In many ways this story, based on Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, touches on a reality close to the hearts of many elderly people and their middle-aged children – how to face an uncertain financial future in a world where we are all living much longer than we expected to.

However, this is not an issue story, instead it is about a bunch of people who are ready to give up on life but are unexpectedly given another chance to celebrate it.

The character who tells the story – in her blog – is Evelyn. With her eyes we see the owner of the hotel Sunny (Dev Patel) fight for what he calls his “blue sky” dream and watch his love affair play out some of the issues of modern India too.

His dream involves what he calls outsourcing old age, because he argues there seem to be many countries that don’t like old people, and he is happy to welcome them into the palace.

Perhaps what director John Madden does so very well is he doesn’t patronise his location – while some of the quirks of India work their way into the script, he steers clear of the exotic foreigner mindset. As his characters grow more accustomed to their surroundings, his filming of them becomes less foreign.

The market hawkers aren’t so loud, the street childen aren’t so numerous and the people around the crew of oldies from England become just people, the only difference is they are from India.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has everything a great film should – love, loss, humour, fisticuffs, makeups and breakups. It also proves yet again that there’s plenty of life in these old dogs yet – Dench is M later this year in Bond’s Skyfall, Smith is Downton Abbey’s queen and Tom Wilkinson’s Joe Kennedy is scary stuff.

Just like in their real acting lives, this film invites us all to treat age with the contempt it so richly deserves.

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