The cast is almost the whole story in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith. In English and Hindi with English subtitles. Rated G.

The cast is almost the whole story in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, named for the rundown Indian redoubt where U.K. seniors wash up when their tiny stipends compel them to outsource their golden years to the Third World.

Bill Nighy and Judi Dench are the standouts as a retired civil servant and a recent widow drawn to each other sympathetically despite the presence of his shrewish, social-climbing wife (Penelope Wilton). They’re thrown together at the Jaipur hospice run by a young go-getter (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel) who dreams of restoring his father’s crumbling business while pursuing a call-centre queen (Tena Desae) beyond his means.

Other new residents include a single woman (Celia Imrie) looking to get her groove back, a randy oldster who never totally lost it (Ronald Pickup, in a part originally intended for Peter O’Toole), and a former high-court judge (Tom Wilkinson) looking to connect with some romantic business started during his childhood in the Raj.

The odd woman out in this menagerie of Brits abroad—it could be called Eat, Tea, Play, Nap—is a deeply xenophobic housekeeper (Maggie Smith) who has only agreed to go “brown” due to the lower cost of a needed hip replacement. Her racism, as you probably guessed, is only skin deep. The other characters are drawn more realistically by screenwriter Ol Parker, adapting from Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things.

Director John Madden, of Shakespeare in Love fame (he’s less famous for Proof and The Debt), allows everyone to supply deft shadings—some comic, some not—that offer insights into aging that are rarely seen on-screen. Too bad the movie thinks it absolutely must give everyone a cute, happy ending. These folks are already old, so we know that can’t be true.


Watch the trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

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