Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’: Elderly Brits Gain New Lease on Life in India, Hilariously

By Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
October 24, 2021 Updated: October 24, 2021

November 30, 2011 | PG-13 | 2h 4min

John Madden, director of the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love,” next gave us “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a comedy about an alternative set of possibilities for the retirement years.

We’ve probably all heard words to the effect that if you retire without a good hobby, then life will lose meaning pretty quickly and you’ll soon die.

man an woman on moped in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Sunaina (Tina Desai) and Sunny Kapoor (Dev Patel) in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Green Knight“) plays Sonny Kapoor, a terminally romantic, highly animated, and unintentionally hilarious young man. He attempts to turn his inherited, previously glorious but now exceedingly seedy hotel into “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”—an idyllic Indian “outsourced” retirement option for well-to-do Brits.

two men and a woman walking in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Evelyn Greenslade (Judy Dench), Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson), and Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Cast

The cast of British characters includes a couple—he’s adventurous and she’s a stick-in-the-mud (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), a high-court judge who left the love of his life in India (Tom Wilkinson), a widow in financial trouble (Judi Dench), a racist house cleaner looking for an affordable hip replacement ( (Maggie Smith), and two true-believers in everlasting romance (Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie).

Older British woman and young Indian girls in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Evelyn Greenslade (Judy Dench) and local Indian girls in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The new inhabitants of the hotel—which has pigeon infestations, leaky faucets, and rooms that lack windows—quickly realize that this is not the photo-shopped version of the hotel in the advertisements, and set up a hue and cry. To which, the ever-optimistic Sonny replies, “In India, we have a saying—everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”

woman with brochure in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton) confronts the hotel manager (Dev Patel) with the misleading hotel brochure in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The judge seeks his lost love, the Indian-phobic former house-cleaner discovers parallels between her own life and that of the Untouchable who serves her, and there’s lookin’-for-love, septuagenarian style. Young Sonny attempts to crawl out from under the thumb of his meddling mother, who inadvertently seeks to keep him from becoming a man.

Woman in sarong in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey) is bound and determined to control her son’s life in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has much in common with 2011’s “The Way,” which is about a group of people on a pilgrimage. The characters in “Best Exotic” take an unlikely pilgrimage into the twilight years by deleting the option of beige old-folks rooms with wall railings and panic buttons. Since the setting is India, one could say that by stepping out of their comfort zones, they all, to greater and lesser degrees—enlighten.

Woman in whitie dress in marketplace in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Evelyn Greenslade (Judy Dench) walks through an Indian market in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The movie is visually sumptuous, the colors vibrant, the indigenous faces arresting, the local customs intriguing, and the soundtrack catchy. Barring an actual trip to India, “Best Exotic” gives the feeling of having had an eye-opening cultural experience—audience members take a bit of India with them when leaving the theater.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 1
(Seated, L–R) Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton), Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie), and Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The decrepit hotel is, naturally, a metaphor for the physical state of the elderly folk inhabiting it. As they step out of their comfort zones and improve the quality of their hearts and happiness, the hotel reflects the growth, feng shui-wise. Everything is eventually all right. Therefore, it is the End.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 1
Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) has experienced a new way of looking at people in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’
Director: John Madden’
Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 30, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.