With such a beloved cast gathered, the story becomes irresistible. Judi Dench’s gentle widow, through to Maggie Smith’s racist invalid are charming. It is probably Bill Nighy’s most affectionate role yet, and despite not having the prestige of some of the other guests (his career only taking off about a decade ago) he has earned his place in their company. But it is Penelope Wilton, as Jean, who steals the show. The film’s finest tragic moment occurs between Wilton and Nighy, arguing whether they have anything to look forward to at this stage of their lives; anxious and dreadfully afraid, Jean is the most striking and unfortunate of the characters – each scene with her is bittersweet.
The first impressions of India–its crowds, colours, noises, smells–are captured in a way that they are at once exciting and nerve-wracking. Many Western ideas of Indian customs are addressed as the locals engage and entertain their visitors and in most cases, apprehensions are abandoned as new friendships form.
Anxiety about ageing affects all of us, and although it doesn’t address the autumn years in the raw, confronting way that Mike Leigh’s Another Year did, it is still an honest and familiar journey that we see this ensemble through. The film is generous to its characters (and thus its audience), and it seems that whenever they seek something out, they are rewarded, and perhaps its lesson is to be courageous and surrender yourself to each opportunity, which, however typical, is good advice at any age. Make all the assumptions you want about each individual’s fate, you are definitely in for a couple of pleasant surprises at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
* a version of this post originally appeared at filmblerg.com