We saw this in the cinema today. Its storyline is quiet and slightly pottering, but it's lovely.
The reason to watch it, of course, is the cast. Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson... whoah. It's about a number of retirement-age Britons who for various reasons (mostly involving financial straits) go to live in India. This is brilliant. All movies should be about old people. It means you never stop watching actors like this.
The script gives everyone their own journey of autumnal discovery and it's a joy to watch every single one of them. Judi Dench nearly made me cry. Maggie Smith is playing a racist harridan who hates brown people. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are playing a married couple again (cf. Shaun of the Dead
), but this time with a different dynamic. Wilton's been cast against type, I think, which is an interesting choice because she humanises what could have been a cartoon and makes you care about this bitter, negative old bat more than a lot of actresses would have. Wilkinson though for once is very well cast.
That's five hugely loved and respected actors, each of whom might have been the best thing by miles in any ordinary film. Five of 'em. And that's just the most obvious heavyweights, with the cast also including Dav Patel (Slumdog Millionaire
), Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and more.
The story is relaxed. It doesn't force the pace. It just lets things unfold. There's no real urgency, but the Indian setting fills it with energy and colour anyway. I love India anyway, so that was perfect for me. The film's occasionally uncomfortable to watch when Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup are cruising for sexual partners, but that's not because they're old. It's because they're twats. (Fortunately they learn and grow.) Dev Patel has a stunning girlfriend to whom he refuses to say the words "I love you", a hotel that he's mismanaging and a holistic approach to organisation, reality and the truth. He's a sweet guy, but you wouldn't want him in charge of your life and that's what his mother thinks too. Our protagonists worry about whether they're past it and to what extent the remainder of their lives are meaningful, to which they reach answers that shouldn't necessarily surprise anyone but still have emotional force given the quality of the performances.
The posters point out that it's from the director of Shakespeare in Love, incidentally. That had Tom Stoppard as scriptwriter and was more tightly written, but I think I enjoyed this just as much for its warmth and for its cast. Other things directed by John Madden, for what it's worth, include Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, Mrs Brown and Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
It's a movie that's very much thinking about age, except during Dev Patel's subplot and even that ends up tying in obliquely with the reflections of the older generation. It was also very noticeable that most of the cinema audience at our screening were of retirement age too, although in fairness this was an afternoon showing. That's not a bad thing, though. For what it's worth, my father liked it and my mother adored it.
Overall, an easy recommendation to pretty much anyone who's not looking for guns or zombies. It has nice characters and unpleasant ones, only some of whom have the journeys of discovery that a cynic might dismiss as inevitable. It feels truthful in its use of character, although a lot of that of course is the actors. It's heartwarming. It's got lovely moments and of course India. This might be what, perhaps, the British film industry does best.