The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not a gritty real life drama set in a council flat in the British midlands despite (a) being a British film and (b) featuring Bill Nighy. No, it is a stylised, slightly surreal film about a group of British pensioners who are inveigled to take out a long term residence in a hotel in Jaipur in the belief that it is a retirement home. The hotel itself is, of course, run down but quite astonishing - Indian Raj architecture of the highest order, run by a slightly crazy young man with a great vision for the future.
The film is full of cliches - the Indian call centre; the man returning to his childhood home; the racist old woman who hates black doctors; the mismatched couple; a couple of old imposters looking for romance... We have Delhi Belly; we have the exorbitant club serving pink gins; we have elephants on the street and mystic healers. Every shot shows bustle; bright markets; temples or the contrast of the shabby but peaceful courtyard in the hotel. There's an overbearing Indian mother; a family of untouchables; a heavy dose of the class system and glorious sunsets.
But the cliches are welcome friends. There is nothing challenging in the film - just a vast travelogue enticing the viewer to come to Jaipur at the first opportunity. Most of the stories end well - sometimes improbably but it doesn't matter. There is no pretence that this is real life - just two hours of pure fun, laughs, comedy and sadness mixed in together. It's colourful and vibrant. It provokes the odd thought without being too demanding.
The cast is to die for. Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel... All delivering epic performances. There are various separate and interlinked story lines to maintain interest over the two hours - whilst having just enough going on in the backgrounds of the perfectly constructed shots to make this worth watching a second or third time.