On the heels of Downton Abbey, the National Theatre of London's HD broadcasts at the Tivoli, and Adele, it seems everything British is hot again.
And while The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn't exactly on fire, it's as pleasant, welcome and satisfying as a spot of tea sipped in a shabby chic hotel lobby.
Shakespeare in Love's director John Madden's casting director is a godsend here, hiring such blithe spirits as Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Downtown Abbey's battling dowagers Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton for a charming tale about taking second chances as life approaches its third act. All are gathered on an extended (perhaps even unlimited) holiday in Jaipur, India for a variety of reasons: polishing a tarnished marriage (Nighy and Wilton); shaking off widowhood's cloak of sadness (Dench); reconnecting with a first love (Wilkinson); and pursuing an affordable hip operation (Smith).
That each character's back story holds interest in the present is due to both screenwriter Ol Parker's deftness at juggling novelist Deborah Moggach's narrative and the exquisite, deceptively low-key acting throughout. Of course, Dench and Smith, inarguably the queens of Britain's acting aristocracy, are terrific. Dench carries the weight of her dead spouse's deceit but seems to age in reverse as she grows more confident and defined. Smith, whose character is a racist, uninformed crank, delivers her idiocy with the snark of a stand-up comic. Equally noteworthy are Wilkinson's bittersweet portrait of a gay judge, Nighy's jaunty embrace of all the country has to offer, and Wilton's harsh disdain for the very things her husband finds entrancing.
Perhaps I'm more forgiving than some fellow critics, who've found the movie incriminatingly lightweight. But the evidence - watching actors whose combined acting experience may approach 300 years - profoundly returns more pure movie pleasures than any number of caped crusaders. The defense rests.