Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A) ****

Judi Dench as Evelyn.
Judi Dench as Evelyn.
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Proof positive that films about older folk – starring older actors – can still attract an audience,

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a showcase for the combined veteran talents of a gallery of thesps led by Judi Dench.

Dame Judi – alongside Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie – heads to Jaipur in search of a break from home life in Blighty. Her fellow travellers are also on their own personal odysseys, each one carrying secrets, hopes, regrets, deeply-buried prejudices and dreams of a better life as they head into their dotage.

Helmed by John (Shakespeare in Love) Madden, this delightful, gentle adventure flies the warning flag about old age and what may happen to us all as the years progress. The overwhelming message seems to be that one needn’t be wearied by time; it’s all in the mind.

In fact The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the title refers to the ramshackle hotel operated by excitable Sonny (Dev Patel, from Skins and Slumdog Millionaire) in noisy, colourful, teeming India – is a film all about love. It’s one of the most romantic feelgood films you will see this year – beautiful, tender and memorable.

The ensemble cast is perfectly constructed. Ostensibly Judi Dench is the lead but each star gets sufficient screen time to establish a persona, back story and plausible interplay with other characters. Arguably the best performance comes from Tom Wilkinson as a retired judge desperate to re-connect with his past, but Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as a married couple on a reluctant holiday are fragility personified.

The movie is not without clichés and a taste of cheese. Maggie Smith is a working- class bigot who has a long memory and an even deeper distaste for foreigners; Patel is struggling to be a man in the face of his mother’s distrust and disinterest. His appeal to his haughty mama over his own romantic entanglements momentarily unbalances the film.

There are few surprises in Ol Parker’s script, adapted from the novel by Deborah Moggach. Yet there do not need to be. This one soars thanks to the effortless brilliance of its ensemble. The heat, sounds and atmosphere of India are a bonus.