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Second Marigold Hotel

When that popular film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel came out in 2011, we did a story on the story and the actors because it resonated so much with our age group!

Later this month the follow up version, the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, will be available on blu-ray and DVD and also on digital HD, so we thought we would look at how the sequel shapes up.

Director John Madden returns with his stellar cast and a couple of extra guests too, for a second life-affirming visit to Jaipur and the colours, sights and smells of an Indian summer.

In the second film, Jaipur's Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful has become a huge success for ambitious young Sonny (played by Dev Patel). Muriel (played by Maggie Smith) is now installed as his business partner, and Douglas (played by Bill Nighy) and Evelyn (played by Judi Dench) have also joined the workforce. With new guests arriving every day, including mysterious younger visitor Lavinia (played by Tamsin Greig) and American writer Guy ( played by Richard Gere,) who vie for the one remaining room, it's clearly time for expansion. But busy Sonny is also occupied by his impending marriage to Sunaina (played by Tena Desae), and the love in the air seems to be contagious, as Madge (played by Celia Imrie) swoons over suave, handsome Guy, and Douglas and Evelyn's romance continues to develop.

For anyone interested in the background of the film, the director, Oscar-nominated English filmmaker John Madden, is perhaps best known for Mrs. Brown (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001), The Debt (2010), and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011).

He recently answered some key questions about making the new film….

You must have a close relationship with Dame Judi Dench, having launched her international film career with Mrs. Brown?

Yes. It is hard to imagine that she didn’t have an international film career before that. She was already a giant in everything else she did. Yes, I am very happy to have played a part in that. I offered her genius up to the world. I take no more credit than that. It is fantastic to have had a chance to work with her once, let alone four times.

What is her genius?

Where do you start? She has an incredible range of skills at this point, which primarily comes from playing to a large audience in a theatre space. That is where she says she has learnt everything she knows and she is blessed with some very particular qualities. She has a voice that is absolutely unmistakable and very, very emotional. She has a physicality that people don’t usually recognize a sort of dynamic quality of withholding and then a sudden rush. It is very, very dynamic and very involving. She has an emotional depth that is second to none. But the quality that marks her out is something she can’t control or necessarily take credit for, which is that she engages an audience immediately. If you watch her on screen, people just go towards her, whatever she is playing. Whether she is playing a demonic character, or a very powerful character, or a very impotent character, she can connect. It also helps that she has become an extravagant beauty the older she’s got. She has always been a very beautiful and interesting woman but she has become a beauty and movie star late in her life. What you see on screen, and I don’t mean in terms of personality, but in quality, is exactly what you get off screen. She is an extraordinary presence.

And she likes a laugh…

She is terrible at corpsing. She is the worse corpser in the business. She makes other people laugh on stage. It is easy to get round that in film but on stage it is less easy. She is a very naughty girl but, yes, she likes a laugh. She takes her work seriously but utterly lightly at the same time.

So many members of this cast are friends. Does that make it hard for you in that you have to corral a group of friends who are always having fun?

No, it doesn’t make it hard, though sometimes corralling them and getting them to shut up is a little bit of an issue. The truth is with English actors, because they work across so many media - film, television and radio, theatre - you are constantly crossing paths with these actors. They are in great demand and do a lot of work so they all work with one another multiple times, most of them. Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy have played husband and wife at least three times before they did it in the first film, and that is a shorthand you are able to take advantage of. The director’s job in this situation is to get the script tight and make sure they understand exactly what each scene is doing – to provide a kind of physical circumstance, a shooting pattern that is going to deliver that. Then you get out of the way because they are all geniuses at what they do.

Bill Nighy is unique…

There is no actor like him in terms of what he does and in the way that he does it. The same goes for [screenwriter] Ol Parker. We write very specifically for these actors. We know their rhythms and you can see a line and know that Bill is going to do something marvellous with it. If you are writing jokes you know how to write for those people because you also know the characters, like they are friends. There’s a lot for me to do. Not least, because as you can see in this film, there is an enormous number of set pieces with many characters at intersecting angles to one another. And the only way to make that work properly is to give them a life in the space that you are working in. I would never start taking anything effectively until around take seven, eight, nine or ten because by that time that had taken possession of the scene. Each of them knew what the other was going to do, and how that was going to work. At that stage, we’d sharpen up the physicality. Although, each time I did that, I was beaten up by Maggie Smith saying, ‘How many more times have I got to walk into this room. Believe me. You wouldn’t ask your mother to do it.’ That’s what she used to say to me!

Does Dame Maggie say things as she sees them?

What you see Maggie doing on screen is very close to what Maggie does off screen. She takes no prisoners! But we had done the first film together and we know where we are with it. Obviously, she is very much the centre of this film. She needs to test the water of anything she is doing. And if you don’t pass that test, watch out. Interestingly, she is never satisfied with what she has done. Ever. So, there’s the paradox of her saying, ‘We are not doing it again, are we?’ But she would always want to do it again because she never thinks she has got there. She can find film frustrating for that reason. The truth is that her ‘not good enough’ is dazzlingly good. I was terribly, terribly lucky because she is the absolute chief fan of Dev Patel. She absolutely adores him and thinks, as I do, that he is spectacular and he is right out there on the end of a limb. But he could do no wrong in her eyes and that was a very, very useful dynamic for me because it is the central relationship of the film.

How long did the filming take?

I think about ten weeks — of which almost every actor was there for at least eight because everybody else is involved in everybody else’s story. So from a director’s point of view you have a slightly uncomfortable situation where you might have Richard Gere or Maggie Smith waiting for a very long time because they might have one line at the end of a scene. But they have been genuinely the most democratic films I have made because they are all co-dependent and interdependent, and that works. It is nice for an actor when they are not carrying the movie.

Apparently, Richard Gere asked to be in the movie. Is that right?

I don’t know where that came from. He has approached me on two if not three occasions to do a project with him, which I couldn’t do as it turned out because of availability. But with this, that is not true because he did not know about it, initially. When we started to write the character we did not even know what gender that character would be. Then we fastened on to a certain kind of quality that the actor would have, and therefore his name came into our heads fairly early on. I don’t know if somehow that got reported as him asking to be in it. We didn’t show him the script until we had finished it and then we said, ‘Would you consider playing this?’ and it turned out that he was a very big fan of the first film. Also, he’s displayed more and more of an appetite for doing smaller, more independent, less mainstream kind of fare. So he didn’t need much persuading, I am glad to say. Really, I should just answer that question with, ‘Yes, he asked to be in it!’

As the first film was such a hit, was there ever case of you not wanting to tarnish that by making another movie?

That is a perfectly fair question. And, believe me, we thought about it a lot because you don’t want to squander whatever it is you might be lucky enough to have achieved the first time around. We had no wish to make the same film again but we did allow ourselves to think about how the story might continue. That was worth thinking about, partly because the end of the first film concluded with a beginning. The first film was about people taking a brave and intuitive choice about their lives as the end of those lives got closer, and by the end of that film they have decided to stay with that choice. And, therefore, it is the beginning of something else. Back then, of course, none of us had any expectation of there being a second chance to use the motif of the film. But we thought about it and decided that we might as well bet on ourselves rather than bet against ourselves. We were certainly inclined to back away from it if we didn’t come up with a very good script. Also, when we began looking back on the first film, we found certain things floating up to the surface that we did not necessarily expect. It is nice when you discover something, and the film talks back to you and you find things that you didn’t completely know were there. You then have a chance to push those a little further the second time round.

What are you thinking about, specifically, when you say that?

I think that mortality obviously hovers as a presence over the first film and in my mind any proper humour has to come out of something real. In this, a lot of the humour comes out of the characters’ own acknowledgement of mortality and what that means. And there’s a very British response to that; they take the piss out of that idea all the time. Gallows humour occupies front and centre stage in this second version. And I think that was one of the surprises with the first film, which was marketed as ostensibly a riotous comedy about cultural collision and British people making their way in India. It had a more melancholy side that I think took people by surprise.

If the second film were as successful as the first one, would you consider a third?

We did not think about a second film when we made the first one and we didn’t think about a third when we made the second. In our minds, Graham Broadbent [producer], Ol Parker [screenwriter] and I, we saw this film as the second half, the complementary piece to the first film. They belong together in our view and they have described a journey for all of those characters. Cinematically, there is a profound sense of resolution because the idea of a marriage was by implication on the table at the end of the first film, not that we realized it that way at the time. So there’s a sense of ending that it would be hard for me to transcend. Is there more of a story to tell about these people? I am sure there is and I wouldn’t be averse to telling it. I always insisted on calling this a companion piece because the word ‘sequel’ felt vulgar somehow, which is absurd and I probably shouldn’t have said that. I feel completely happy about these two films because they organically belong to one another. They make sense and if we did something else, that would have to make sense. We could be in Mumbai. We could be following Douglas and Evelyn. I don’t know what we would be doing.”

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