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Should I Watch..? 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' (2012)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Poster for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"

Poster for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"

What's the big deal?

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a comedy-drama film released in 2012 and is based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. Directed by John Madden whose previous works include Shakespeare In Love, the film features an ensemble British cast featuring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Dev Patel. The film concerns a number of senior citizens who journey out to a retirement home in India and discover things about themselves they never knew. It became a sleeper hit, wowing critics and audiences alike around the world. It also heralded the resurgence of films with an older cast that targeted an older audience, prompting the release of other films like Quartet and reminding viewers that older people have been unserved by cinema for far too long.


What's it about?

The film follows seven British people as they seek out an ideal retirement community for themselves. Recently widowed Evelyn is forced to sell her home to pay for her late husband's debt. Graham decides that he is through being a High Court judge and decides to return to India where he grew up to look for his first love. Xenophobic Muriel finds herself transferred to an Indian hospital to undergo an experimental hip replacement surgery much sooner than she would in the UK. Married couple Douglas and Jean are forced to relocate after losing most of their money in their daughter's Internet company. Madge is tired of babysitting and decides to seek out adventure and possibly yet another husband while lothario Norman decides to chance his luck in a place where his age is not a barrier to his lifestyle.

They all apply separately to stay at The Exotic Marigold Hotel, a luxurious palace outside Jaipur and run by the energetic and blindly enthusiastic owner, Sonny Kapoor. But when they get there, they find the hotel in a severe state of disrepair and Sonny up to his neck in mounting money problems. But while Sonny's issues are a minor concern, the biggest problem is what lies ahead for our senior citizens and how will they all cope in such a strange and often unfathomable environment so far from home?


What's to like?

Like most British films, the characters always come first and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is no exception. With a cast to die for, the film is a plethora of performance both outrageous and affecting. Wilkinson's role, as the tortured man searching for a love long abandoned, is wonderfully perfect and genuinely moving while Patel's portrayal of the ever-smiling Sunny reminds us to forget about his role in M. Night Shyamalan's doomed The Last Airbender. But every cast member brings something to the film, whether its the resolute stiff-upper-lip of Wilton or the gradual erosion of outdated values from Smith. Imrie and Pickup have the best lines, however, as the randy retirees and most of the comedy is provided by them.

I also liked how the film is less one story and actually about several smaller ones, all equally important and all linked in some way. It's a pleasant and easy film to watch, the sort of Sunday evening broadcast you can enjoy at the end of a long weekend, despite the unceasing noise, mayhem and colour of the Indian streets and cities the film is shot in. It reminded me of Calendar Girls, another film for a mature audience, in that it balances comedy and pathos with unrivalled precision and look how successful that film was. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a very hard film to dislike.

Maggie Smith plays against type as a woman of prejudice in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"

Maggie Smith plays against type as a woman of prejudice in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"

Fun Facts

  • This is the second time Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton have played a married couple. They were also husband-and-wife in 2004's Shaun Of The Dead.
  • Jean reads the book Tulip Fever which is by the author Deborah Moggach, whose novel this is an adaptation of. The film adaptation of Tulip Fever was released in 2017 but failed to find much success at the box office, limping in with earnings just over $9 million worldwide and was also overshadowed by the collapse of distributor The Weinstein Company in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
  • The actual site used for filming the hotel itself is called Ravla Khempur and is an equestrian hotel originally used as a palace by a tribal chief.

What's not to like?

The curse of most comedy films seems to involve putting the funniest bits in the trailer and not keeping any more for the film. Yes, it has laughs but it isn't a full-time comedy which concentrates on going for the jugular. At times, it does feel a little slow and while this gives the film a chance to tell the stories to their fullest, I still felt underserved at the end. I certainly wanted to know more about Marge and Norman, whose comic scenes don't exactly justify their reasons for moving to India.

The ending felt a bit too sugary for me as the various strands came together and everything worked itself out. For a film already stretching plausibility to its limits, it just felt a bit too fairy-tale for my liking. Oh, and the film's title is too long. Given that it's already shortened from "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly And Beautiful", it's still a bit of a mouthful. Other than that, I really enjoyed this movie and you can't say fairer than that.

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The film is awash with colour and life, framing the performance of the cast well.

The film is awash with colour and life, framing the performance of the cast well.

Should I watch it?

It might put the kids to sleep but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delight, allowing great actors to put their thing and offering a genuinely emotive movie to develop naturally. It's smart, gorgeous to look at, funny and at times a tearjerker too. Best of all, it's a film that literally everyone can enjoy - senior citizens will revel in the fact that it portrays people like themselves having the wildest of adventures while kids will wonder if Gran and Grandpa secretly dance in the nude and go on romantic dates. Thoroughly recommended.

Great For: the whole family, quiet nights in, retirement homes, luvvies

Not So Great For: grumpy teenagers, action fans

What else should I watch?

While it's nice to be reminded that Judi Dench is more than just M from the James Bond series, there are plenty of films out there that might also appeal to elderly viewers. Certainly, The King's Speech is a glorious picture with Colin Firth in the form of his life and enough laughs to offset the drama. If you want more Dench than try Mrs Brown where she excels as a Queen Victoria in mourning.

Of course, going further back, there are also sorts of classics to jog their memories - Citizen Kane is possibly the best film I've ever seen or how about Brief Encounter for the romantics out there. Just because they are black-and-white doesn't mean they are any less as good - some of them are even better than a lot of recent stuff in the cinemas. I don't know anyone who would recommend Fifty Shades Of Grey above the likes of Casablanca...

Main Cast


Judi Dench

Evelyn Greenslade

Bill Nighy

Douglas Ainslie

Tom Wilkinson

Graham Dashwood

Celia Imrie

Madge Hardcastle

Penelope Wilton

Jean Ainslie

Maggie Smith

Muriel Donnelly

Ronald Pickup

Norman Cousins

Dev Patel

Sonny Kapoor

Technical Info

* based on the novel "These Foolish Things" by Deborah Moggach

DirectorJohn Madden


Ol Parker *

Running Time

124 minutes

Release Date (UK)

24th February, 2011




Comedy, Drama

© 2015 Benjamin Cox

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Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on June 16, 2015:

Glad you enjoyed them both - haven't seen the second yet! The review is more for the perspective of someone flicking through something like Netflix, trying to decide what to watch. All comments appreciated though and hopefully, you'll read more of my work.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on June 15, 2015:

I liked both of the films in this series, so I can't ask myself the question in your title.

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