We have a lot to be grateful for the box office successes of the Hotel Marigold movies as they have opened studio heads eyes to the reality that good Brit comedies talented veteran actors can become commercial hits. This latest one may only have one actual Dame with Imelda Staunton, but it’s cast of some of the cream of English actors, make this delightful rom-com a real joy to watch.
Staunton plays Lady Sandra a rather obnoxious pushy social climber who on the eve of her husband’s retirement discovers he has been screwing one of her best friends for years. Rather than face the humiliation of living with her rather smug neighbors in this wealthy part of suburbia, Sandra hotfoots it to London and the doorstep of her estranged older sister Bif (the glorious Celia Imrie).
The never-married Bif is a bit of a free spirit who lives in a rather squad apartment on a Council Estate (Projects) in one of London’s downtrodden areas. It is quite a downfall for Sandra and also a bad fit for her as she is not only narcissistic but also racist and and a snob to boot. She is determined to maintain a drunken stupor simply to get through it all.
Bohemian Bif takes all her sister’s bad behavior in her stride and eventually persuades Sandra to join her at a weekly dance class for senior citizens which is the hub of her own social life. Her haughty sister initially rejects it, but is very soon intrigued by the smooth fox-trotting movies of Charlie (Timothy Spall) a charming shabby furniture restorer, and then by the man himself.
There are no surprising plot twists in this gentle feel-good of a movie …..although for a comedy it does unusually have a couple of deaths in it … but that’s not a disappointment as it is not always the end result that is most important here, but the journey to get there.
Staunton and Imrie are a formidable pair. Staunton’s Sandra shows just enough vulnerability for us to really warm to her, and the woman’s comic timing is simply second to none. Imrie gets a chance to shine as a flirtatious temptress and is superb as the confident happy bohemian who cannot be fazed by anything. Spall as the unlikely love interest (and which is probably a first for him) surprises not just by the perfect way that he fits into the role, but carrying off the rather natty outfit the costume designer has him wear to attend a funeral.
One of the other dancers in the weekly class was played by Joanna Lumley who proved by her wonderful, but brief, portrayal she was very seriously underused.
Excellent later-in-life comedies like this may not be the stuff that Awards are given for, but they not only provide plum parts for veteran actors, they also bring a great deal of joy to mature audiences who totally lap them up.