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Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The

D: John Madden / 122m

Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tina Desai, Diana Hardcastle, Richard Gere, Tamsin Greig, Penelope Wilton, Lillete Dubey, Shazad Latif, Claire Price, Rajesh Tailang, David Strathairn

With the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a success, and extra rooms being added due to its popularity, owner Sonny (Patel) and his manager, Muriel (Smith) travel to San Diego to meet with Ty Burley (Strathairn), the owner of a string of hotels that cater to the elderly. Their plan is to purchase another hotel in Jaipur, but while Burley is enthusiastic about their plan, he tells them that any agreement will be dependent on his sending an anonymous inspector to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; it will be their recommendation that wins or loses the deal.

Back in Jaipur, Evelyn (Dench) and Douglas (Nighy) have yet to make a commitment to each other. They skirt around their friendship, too afraid to confess or reveal their true feelings for each other. In the meantime, Douglas works as a part-time tour guide (though he’s terrible at it), while Evelyn works for a company sourcing local fabrics. Another resident, Madge (Imrie), is having trouble deciding which one of two suitors to accept if they propose, while Norman (Pickup) and Carol (Hardcastle) are adjusting to being a couple after years of casual relationships. And preparations for Sonny’s impending wedding to Sunaina (Desai) are well under way.

The arrival of new guest Guy Chambers (Gere) has Sonny in a fluster as he thinks Guy is the anonymous hotel inspector. He goes all out to impress him, even to the point of showing him the nearby hotel he’s looking to buy. But a problem arises: an old friend of his and Sunaina’s, Kushal (Latif), has bought the hotel as an investment opportunity. Angered by this, and jealous of the time Kushal is spending with Sunaina arranging the wedding, Sonny puts his marriage in jeopardy. His problems are further added to when Guy shows a romantic interest in Sonny’s mother (Dubey).

Evelyn and Douglas continue to avoid committing to each other, and the arrival of Jean (Wilton), Douglas’s estranged wife, adds confusion to the mix. Madge finds her feelings for her suitors moving in an unexpected direction, and Norman begins to suspect that Carol is having an affair. With Guy and Sonny’s mother hitting it off as well, and Muriel receiving some unwelcome news following a check-up at the clinic, it’s left to Sonny and Sunaina’s wedding to bring everyone together, and to help everyone resolve their issues, and seal the fate of the second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The - scene2

The continued health and well-being of its stars permitting, the unexpected success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) was always likely to inspire a sequel – or, in this case, a follow on – and it’s a relief to find that the elements that made the first movie such a hit haven’t been ignored or forgotten about. And so, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, like its predecessor before it, is by turns funny, dramatic, sad, hopeful, colourful, affecting, and undemanding. This last isn’t a negative, however, but a recognition that this is a movie that doesn’t have to try too hard to be entertaining or provide its audience with anything more than they’re expecting. It does what it needs to do with the utmost confidence, and it doesn’t disappoint.

It’s a movie with a great deal of heart, and a great deal of affectionate humour too; and, for a movie with such an predominantly aging cast, a lot of energy. Madden directs Ol Parker’s script with an eye for the subtle moments in amongst the more farcical elements (Norman trying to “save” Carol), or those that seem too unlikely (Guy being attracted to Sonny’s mother). And he gets them: Douglas’s wistful wedding speech; Madge’s tearful recognition of the relationship she really wants; Sonny’s doorstep apology to Sunaina; Evelyn’s uncertainty about meeting Douglas in Mumbai; the manager of the Viceroy Club’s comment about their bedrooms: “They’re for guests when they’re tired… or fortunate”; and Guy’s quietly moving speech to Sonny’s mother.

Helped tremendously by its returning cast, writer, and director, the movie has an advantage right from the start: everyone knows what to do. If things seem too reminiscent of the first movie, then that’s a plus on this occasion, as familiarity breeds endearment and acceptance. It helps that actors of the calibre of Dench, Smith and Nighy are so loved by audiences around the globe, and that they rarely put a foot wrong or try to sell an unconvincing emotion. They’re past masters at this type of movie and their roles, and they inhabit their characters with ease. And if the main plot and various accompanying storylines seem a little obvious or straightforward – predictable even – then, again, this isn’t a negative. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

The various Indian locations are used to good effect and remain a perfect backdrop for such an unlikely tale of success (both the hotel and the movie). The peace of the hotel is contrasted nicely with the din and the hubbub of the street scenes, and Ben Smithery’s cinematography adds a painterly sheen to everything, making the sights seem even more colourful than they are. There’s a well-choreographed dance routine to round things off, as well as a more sombre farewell to one of the characters, and the sense that if there were to be a third movie, the recognition that it might struggle to keep matters as interesting as the first two.

Rating: 8/10 – a sequel that’s as effective as its precursor, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an enchanting, appealing return to Jaipur and some much-loved characters; while not pushing any boundaries (or needing to), it remains guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even the most indifferent of viewers.