Having established his ramshackle retirement hotel in Jaipur, India, budding entrepreneur Sonny (Patel) dreams of starting a chain with his acerbic mentor, Muriel (Smith).
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? A sequel with a title like that isn’t just asking for trouble, it is giving critics knives and presenting its exposed heart for butchery. This apparent guilelessness is to the great credit, though, of a film which is kind, sweet and, yes, very open-hearted.
It’s a very rare thing indeed: a follow-up that feels less cynical than the original, which rinsed the grey pound with an adept but somewhat calculating tale of pensioners pining for life before death. Director John Madden returns with screenwriter Ol Parker and though there are some arguably over-familiar elements — a story strand strongly reminiscent of a Fawlty Towers episode — the pair do a remarkable job of weaving multiple characters and subplots into a cohesive, satisfying whole, giving virtually everyone their moment. The first film really hinged on Evelyn (Judi Dench), and her will-they, won’t-they relationship with Douglas (Bill Nighy) stretches out here, probably as far as it could go without audience members actually screaming, “JUST BLOODY KISS HER!”
This is a film not just about second chances, but third and fourth — about repeating mistakes and perhaps eventually learning from them. There’s also a tenderness in how it treats even its most annoying or apparently villainous characters. Sometimes people are cruel because they are sad. Of the additions to the cast the most eye-catching is Richard Gere, but the performance of the picture is from Maggie Smith. Sharp-tongued and reluctantly kind, her character is not — one imagines — all that different from the actress herself, but in her openness and honesty in confronting twilight, she inspires as a woman looking for our own glimpse of the sun. Too late for BAFTA this year, she should be remembered next, for this: The VERY Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
An entirely charming extension of the most unlikely franchise, gently handling big themes and dissolving cynicism with laughter. Maggie Smith is superb.