“The proof of our success is we’re victims of it”
The news of a sequel to the better-than-I-thought-it-would-be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was received with something of a heavy heart, the automatic assumption being that it wouldn’t, couldn’t, match the success of the first film. But dangnabbit if ain’t actually, possibly, slightly better. Managing the not inconsiderable feat of reuniting the vast majority of the ensemble with writer Ol Parker and director John Madden, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel navigates many of the pitfalls of sequels to produce a story that is at times, deeply moving.
It manages this by emphasising its strengths in its stunning array of acting talent and really capitalising on the universe it built up. Though there are a couple of new faces (Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig), the film focuses on a genuine continuation of story and character. We return to the Indian city of Jaipur where Dev Patel’s Sonny and Maggie Smith’s Muriel’s retirement home is going great guns and they’re looking for finance for a new location, dependent on the results from an anonymous inspection (which is where Gere and Greig come in, thankfully briefly).
In the midst of all these business affairs, Sonny’s upcoming wedding to Sunaina follows a rather formulaic path of false danger but where real jeopardy comes in is in the affairs of the older generation. Judi Dench’s Evelyn is offered a new lease of life with a job offer but it’s her putative relationship with Bill Nighy’s Douglas that’s more affecting, as they each struggles to articulate the strength of their emotions. More light-hearted fare comes from the (separate) amorous adventures of the frisky Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup).
But where The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel excels is in Maggie Smith’s portrayal of Muriel, the grouchiest of the residents (as evinced by some marvellously tart scenes of dialogue with her and Dench) but as she receives bad news from the clinic, the character becomes a moving meditation on mortality which, delivered in Smith’s inimitable sardonic tone, is delicately but devastatingly poised. It may not be ground-breaking film-making but what it does, it does rather well indeed, all the more so for it being a sequel.