To anyone who has not actually watched the film, it would seem like a minor miracle that a film populated by ageing character actors would turn out to be such a crowd pleaser that it would, in true cynical Hollywood fashion, warrant a sequel. It is, however, no surprise to anyone familiar with the careers of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and the like, that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the cinematic equivalent of pav bhaaji outside Heera Panna in Mumbai — perfect comfort food.
As warm and wonderful as all those characters are (even Maggie Smith, who has perfected crustiness into an art form, turns out to have a gooey core), the most wonderful of the lot turns out to be Tom Wilkinson. I first noticed him as the ageing laid-off factory worker turned stripper in The Full Monty and the grieving father in In the Bedroom, both roles that require him to project varying degrees of quiet desperation. The same feeling permeates his character here as well, but then, not all forms of quiet desperation cloak the same unquiet heart.
From the start, his character seems to be the one most comfortable with the heat and dust and chaos of their surroundings. While it is established early that his familiarity with the place has a lot to do with it, the man is not without his baggage. One of the more affecting passages in the film is the scene where he recalls a youthful affair with a young boy his age. The affair was discovered, the boy was sent away, and so was he back to England. And now, at the end of a long career as a jurist, he has returned to find what happened of his lost love. And when he does find the man, he realizes:
He’s been happy. He’s had a peaceful life and he’s never forgotten me. That’s what he said. <laughs> All that time, I thought I had sentenced him to a life of shame. But I was the one in prison. But not anymore.
Those are his last words. I was not surprised: his character arc was done. What was surprising was how happy I felt.