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#UKAsianReview: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Warm and Good-Natured

Movie sequels are rarely a good idea.

However, the people behind 2012’s surprise critical and commercial hit ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ seem to have drawn inspiration from the collective wisdom of the film’s veteran cast who return for a second jaunt over to Rajasthan.

Mindful of its existing audience – India lovers as well as, crucially, those on the verge of retirement – the producers have named the sequel the ‘Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ – perhaps not as life-affirming as the first but hopefully entertaining.

The story picks up where the first movie ended with the advanced-in-years residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel nicely settled in, the colourful chaos of India not posing too many problems – not even for the eternally cantankerous Muriel Donnely (played by the magnificent Maggie Smith).

Muriel and her fellow ‘outsourced’ retirees – Evelyn (Jude Dench), Douglas (Bill Nighy), Madge (Celia Imrie), Norman (Ronald Pickup), Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are enjoying the warm sunshine and vibrancy of colourful Rajasthan with just the intrigues of romance causing them some mild stress.

There is something of a “plot” – the residents of the Exotic Marigold are busy preparing for the wedding of hotel owner Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) to Sunaina (Tena Desai) whilst Sonny is trying to close a deal on a second property (get it?).

Into that basic structure is placed numerous parallel narratives – most noticeably, the burgeoning romance between Evelyn and Douglas and the arrival at the hotel of the American silver fox Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) and his wooing of Sonny’s mother Mrs Kapoor (Lilette Dubey).

Given the formidable talent on show, the assortment of narratives is entertaining rather than confusing, in particular how everything in life – from the weather to social conventions – appears to impede the pursuit of the simplest form of happiness in one’s old age.

The romance between Evelyn and Douglas takes centre stage as the pair struggle to overcome their personal anxieties to be happy whilst Guy’s sweetly relentless wooing of Mrs Kapoor is hindered not only by social customs but by business concerns as well.

Meanwhile, the once-prejudiced Muriel is struggling to come to terms with the contentment she has found at the Marigold, uncertain how best to embrace and enjoy it.

The problems seem to permeate down to the younger members of this community – Sonny is unable to decide what will make him happiest: the girl whom he so determinedly wooed in the first instalment or the promise of business expansion.

And the list goes on.

Whilst there’s an Indian wedding, a trip to Mumbai and, of course, a dance number, the plot points seem designed merely to provide each one of the film’s veteran actors a platform to tug at your heartstrings and they do so, yet again, to magnificent effect.

Each and every one of them is utterly compelling in their individual roles – from the achingly vulnerable Dench and the conflicted Nighy through the towering Maggie Smith and the effortlessly charming Richard Gere all the way through to the eternally hassled Lilette Dubey who carries the flag for the “home team”.

Patel once again hams it up to a nearly-annoying level, perhaps trying to overcompensate for the thespian talent around him.

That’s a minor quibble though, for the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may be second best but it is as charming, good natured and warm as the first.

An entertaining romp through the travails of old age – travails that all of us are bound to encounter.

‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is in UK cinemas 27 February.

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