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Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The


Stars: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Tena Desae

Director: John Madden

'...for the elderly and beautiful'. Although it can't sustain the riotous wit of the dialogue in its first minutes, this still remains a warmly enjoyable yarn of a group of senior citizens (played by seven of Britain's best older actors) who desert the UK for the heat, dust and exotic appeal of Jaipur in India.

Here, they head for the titular hotel, which they find somewhat run down and barely kept afloat by Sunny (Patel), third and least son of a distinguished Delhi family.

Ex-justice Graham (Wilkinson) turns out to be gay and looking for the Indian youth with whom he shared a life-changing relationship decades ago. Norman (Pickup) and Madge (Imrie) are vaguely on the lookout for a partner. 'I've still got it,' he explains, 'but no one wants it.'

Working-class Muriel (Smith, in a far cry from her Downton Abbey persona) seems to be anticipating only death - 'I don't plan far ahead,' she tells her companions. 'I don't even buy green bananas' - and is deeply racially prejudiced against the locals as 'brown faces and black hearts reeking of curry'. That is, until she gets to know the girl who serves her food.

Douglas (Nighy) stoically puts up with the moods of his disgruntled wife (Wilton, a fellow Downton refugee). But at the heart of it all is Evelyn (Dench), a widow desperately keen to make a go of her new life, but so hard up she must look for the work she's never done before.

If the plot does lose some of its momentum as it goes on, acid-tongued lines still pop up here and there. If Dame Maggie gets the richest pickings (although her character's volte face at the end takes some swallowing), Imrie, too, has her moments. Wilton announces that she and Nighy are about to celebrate their 40th anniversary. "We haven't decided,' she confides, 'how to mark the occasion. 'Hmm,' muses Imrie. 'How about a minute's silence?'

David Quinlan

UK 2011. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour by deluxe.
124 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 19 Feb 2012