The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Blu-ray Review

'It's almost like Madden intentionally makes you believe he's churning out an inferior copy of his first film, just so he can pull the rug out from underneath you'. 

Having enjoyed the charming and inoffensive Britishness of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel without ever being wowed, I went into The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel essentially expecting two more hours of much the same. Except, perhaps, with a little charming and inoffensive transatlantic suaveness gently stirred into the mix thanks to the addition of Richard Gere to the sequel's talent roster.

From one perspective, that's exactly what is delivered. Director John Madden in many ways sticks to the formula that made his first film the surprise runaway success it became. The returning cast of veteran British talent largely deliver the same light entertainment as before, with none (save perhaps for one notable exception) ever stretching themselves, but never needing to in order to deliver what Madden requires from them. Gere fits into the sequel like a man settling into a cosy armchair whilst wearing a snug pair of Hush Puppies - entirely comfortable, entirely relaxed, and entirely happy to be so.

Initially at least, Madden also seems happy to keep things just as safe in terms of the story second time around. If anything, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at first feels somewhat less adventurous than its precursor. The director largely opts for British sitcom style humour during the first half, including Norman (Ronald Pickup) becoming convinced he's accidentally put a hit out on ladyfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle); a line of uncomfortable witticisms from hotel owner Sonny (Dev Patel) about the fact many of his clientele are going to die soon; and one particular subplot centred around new hotel guest Lavinia (Tamsin Grieg) lifted almost wholesale from the Fawlty Towers playbook.

It's perfectly entertaining and yet somewhat disappointing at the same time, suggesting Madden has happily ventured into the lazy cash-in area of sequel-making. But at the start of the second hour, there's a distinct upturn in both the tone and the quality of the film, shedding its light-hearted humour for greater depth and emotional weight. It's almost like Madden intentionally makes you believe he's churning out an inferior copy of his first film, just so he can pull the rug out from underneath you when he reveals that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is in fact that rarest of pleasures: a sequel that is notably better than the original.

The second half sees a number of the subplots take unexpected turns - there were at least two twists which took me completely by surprise, raising the film a good few notches further in the process - and many characters previously presented as stock figures or comic relief are allowed to develop more satisfyingly. Perhaps most impressive of all is Maggie Smith's performance as Muriel, who started off as a hackneyed racist figure in the first film and is transformed by Smith's touching and authentic turn during the second into one of the franchise's most affecting characters.

Despite the strength of the closing hour, Madden does trip up once or twice. Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas' (Bill Nighy) romantic narrative feels undernourished after being established as a central pair during the first hour, and there's at least one key plot thread that is never properly resolved come the end. But whilst The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel might fall short of ever proving to be a film of genuine excellence, it certainly comes pleasingly close - perhaps surprisingly so - at a fair few points throughout its enjoyable two hours.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 29th June 2015. 

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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