The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel finds “a peerless ensemble at the top of their game”

Richard Gere is among the new old faces joining Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and friends in another irresistible comedy of migrant manners, says Alan Jones

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 Everyone can heave a massive sigh of relief. For this sequel to the hugely popular 2011 original, based on Deborah Moggach’s book These Foolish Things, is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser in its own right. 

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OK, returning director John Madden and scripter Ol Parker do, to some extent, keep their adept fingers on what will make the discerning senior set’s pulse quicken. However, it’s one thing knowing that all the audience, who made the first film a sleeper hit, really want is to be reacquainted with the fine roster of beloved faces and acutely observed characters. Delivering the entertainment value while extending that comfort zone into uplifting new areas is something else entirely.  

Astonishingly, Madden and Parker achieve that, layering deeper messages about ageing and cross-culturally coping in the modern world, aided by a peerless ensemble at the top of their game.  

This precision-tooled continuation is set eight months after events in the first intimate adventure. Hotel co-managers Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) are in San Diego to attract US financing for their idea of creating a chain catering for British retirees. Head honcho of one superannuated-skewed business, David Strathairn, seems particularly keen on their expansion plans and hints he’ll be sending over an undercover inspector to see first-hand how their eccentric operation works. 

Meanwhile, back in Jaipur, the familiar members of the ex-pat community are adjusting to their newly outsourced lease of life. Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Evelyn (Judi Dench) are working, he as a hopeless tour guide, she as a fabric buyer for a UK retailer, but they still can’t quite get their stumbling December-December romance on track. Matters aren’t helped when Douglas’s wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) reappears with their daughter in tow. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) aren’t sure if they want to remain relationship exclusive and Madge (Celia Imrie) is juggling two local suitors. 

Then wannabe novelist Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) checks in and makes a seductive beeline for Sonny’s overbearing mother (Lillete Dubey). After that, bumbling Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) turns up, claiming she’s researching the place for her elderly mother. Is one of them the American spy? That’s what Sonny must find out while frantically planning his marriage to Sunaina (Tena Desae), battling jealousy over her best male friend’s intentions and trying to buy the first location for his dream franchise. 

Don’t panic, there’s nothing too worrying to deal with in this effortlessly enjoyable and equally winning pensioner passage to India. Norman, convinced he’s drunkenly hired a taxi-driver hitman to kill Carol, is about as larkily heavy as it gets, while other life-lesson storylines always err towards the heart-warming with expected side orders of wry humour. 

It’s all expertly mined by the powerhouse troupe of seasoned national treasures whose superb timing and easy chemistry once more give the sometimes perfunctory script the necessary lifts and wring maximum emotional resonance from every daft or dire situation. 

As with Downtown Abbey, Maggie Smith has the delivery of the droll one-liner down pat, albeit with a working-class accent, and she’s a force of nature here: her climactic self-reflections are the most wrenchingly poignant moments in a subtly shaded performance masterclass. 

Patel has also upped his game by growing smoothly into his part as the ever irrepressibly optimistic Sonny, adding a wonderful roundness and depth. Meanwhile, Gere and Greig bring their own singular brands of infectious charm to an engaging comedy of migrant manners that’s kept warmly on track by Madden’s direction, Ben Smithard’s gorgeous visuals and Thomas Newman’s gloriously evocative score. 

Feel-good fuzzy to be sure yet always touching, even when issues tidily work themselves out, Madden captures pleasure-filled lightning in a bottle again with this irresistible mix of funny valentines, senior moments and magical sentiment, skilfully blended with the sights, sounds and colours of picture-postcard India. Another rallying cry for an underserved older audience to become energised and moved by, it really doesn’t get any better or more appealing than that. Look for a third instalment soon.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is in cinemas from Thursday 26 February


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