Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie Dev Patel and Maggie Smith.
Running Time: 124 mins.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Saturday 24th February, 2011.
Assembling the crème da-la-crème of the British acting elite, John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) gives Dame Judi Dench another wonderful role to play. This time he and screenwriter Ol Parker have crafted what is essentially a very ordinary person in Evelyn, a recent widow who decides, along with six others, to spend her twilight years in the Indian hotel of the title, having been promised five-star luxury… Only of course, upon arrival, the sight which greets them is literally crumbling into ruin.
Much comedy arises from the inevitable clash of cultures involving food, love, loss, occupation and transport to name but a few.
There’s a couple, worrying about their ever-advancing years (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), an MP with a secret (Tom Wilkinson) an ageing lothario who says he’s ‘early forties’ (that’s presumably born in the early forties!), glamorous granny the flirting, quixotic Madge (Celia Imrie) and the racist Muriel (Maggie Smith).
The script (based on the novel These Foolish Things (penned by Deborah Moggoch), does contain very funny lines, particularly from Smith. Dench does so effortlessly what comes so naturally to her; drawing the audience deeper into a completely relatable character, ensuring we’re on the side of someone who is directly at the heart of this never-overly sentimental comedy, which works well, as its often seen from her point-of-view. Penelope Wilton is particularly excellent as the disparaging Jean.
The only stumbling block with the film is one of tone. One minute, it occasionally will make you laugh, teeter on the very precipice of sentimentality, and then go into an almost mournful state. It’s been marketed on posters and in trailers as predominantly a ‘feelgood’ comedy with frequent visual laughs, more in the British ensemble, Richard Curtis-type mould. But the result is a decidedly mixed hybrid of drama followed by comedy – an uneven ‘dramedy’ – somewhat reminiscent of Calander Girls crossed with East is East. I don’t think it’s really that much of a spoiler to say that one character does die – although it may not be who you think. The characters are also a little too middle-class for me, obviously of some wealth, and everything concerning ‘an emotional journey’ or ‘finding themselves’ quickly becomes rather over-familiar and clichéd, with various instances involving the difference between Wi-Fi, 3G and broadband. But oddly, does probably reflect a particular quadrant of the population’s reality rather well – even if it does so with a warm, tinted glow.
It also offers a superb advertisement for India, truly capturing its hustle-and-bustle crackpot quality, where the zeitgeist seems experimentally rudimentary, but full of colour, celebration and music.
Dev Patel, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, has his own sub-plot involving arranged marriage, but he really does well at playing an eager young man, desperate in the plight to make the best of himself and the hotel.
The demographic for this film is interesting. Obviously, there will be a certain age-range of senior citizens that propel this film up the box-office. It’s currently enjoying its rightful place right at the top, but I think it also reinforces what the film tries to say – that life transcends age, as this touching film ultimately does.
Rating: * * * *