2011’s surprise box-office hit about a motley group of British pensioners in India has unsurprisingly spawned a sequel and if you enjoyed the first one you’ll need little encouragement to book a return visit to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The cosy familiarity of cherished British thespians playing to type being a large part of the original film’s appeal, director John Madden and writer Ol Parker have wisely, if unadventurously, stuck with a winning formula. So Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and their fellow veterans are all present and correct in Dev Patel’s dilapidated Jaipur hotel, as he confirms with a morning roll call designed to establish whether any of the elderly residents have, figuratively speaking, checked out overnight.
Not that his guests are sitting around waiting to die. These remarkably sprightly old-timers have, it seems, found second wind – and second jobs – in India. Dench’s widowed Evelyn has become a fabric buyer, Nighy’s Douglas a bumbling tour guide, and Smith’s Muriel is now the hotel’s co-manager.
Muriel’s brief trip to the US with Patel’s Sonny to secure funding for his expansion plans kicks off one of the film’s key storylines, with Sonny becoming so fixated on the project that he neglects the preparations for his forthcoming wedding, much to the irritation of long-suffering fiancée Sunaina (Tina Desai).
And when the hotel welcomes two new guests – Richard Gere’s silver fox Guy, here to write a novel, and Tamsin Greig’s Lavinia, researching a retirement home for her mother – Sonny convinces himself that Guy is secretly an inspector for his potential investors and begins frantically sucking up to the stranger.
There are other plot strands. Douglas hesitantly courts Evelyn, Ronald Pickup’s Norman fears that he has inadvertently taken out a hit on his girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle) and Celia Imrie’s Madge juggles two suitors. At times, it looks as though Madden and Parker are attempting to juggle too many stories, a risky manoeuvre without the firm foundation of Deborah Moggach’s original novel.
Fortunately, the actors are so assured that they supply the nuances the script neglects and give even the lamest lines a comic zing. And Smith and Dench, in particular, bring real depth of feeling to their characters and make their quests for happiness and purpose unexpectedly moving.
Certificate PG. Runtime 122 mins. Directors John Madden.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.