Not the retiring type: Judi Dench seeks solace in India
Stories about uptight Brits unravelling when in contact with more exotic cultures make up something of a literary and cinematic sub-genre, although thanks to E.M. Forster it is usually Italy that seems to be particularly effective in churning up all those repressed Home Counties emotions, with India a distant second. However, since we have thoroughly divested ourselves of our corsets and starch collars — indeed apparently turned into a nation of emotional exhibitionists — the transformative effect of "abroad" now has to derive from different sources. There is after all many a Greek island which, surveying the damage after another summer season, wishes we were just a bit more buttoned-up.
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it is the neglect and invisibility visited on those past retirement age in Britain which provides the impetus to flee to more welcoming climes. Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach about an assorted group of senior citizens who take off for a stay in a luxurious Indian hotel, only to find it virtually derelict, this film opened to very lukewarm reviews, but its word-of-mouth popularity has been substantial, taking it to the top of the box office charts. Having seen it not at a press screening, with all the attendant knowingness of such gatherings, but at the cinema with real live people, I can completely understand why. It was a wet, chilly night in Greenwich, and for a couple of hours, the fullish house (of all ages) at my local multiplex was transported to another place, with characters who, judging by the lack of general fidgeting and whispering going on, they obviously considered absorbing and entertaining company. Can you really ask more of a film than that?
The story is not especially original, and certainly it's not without cliché: India "assaults the senses" we are told, something I can readily attest to, having seen many a travel documentary but never having actually been near the place. Likewise, you have to "give in to it or it will run you over" (the same could be said of New York, I suppose). But I could forgive the film these occasional lapses into triteness, simply because it had paid the audience the double compliment of being so completely well-made (precision-tooled almost) and good-natured in its desire to entertain and, possibly, move.