This is an extraordinary movie that tackles some very deep issues while having a fairy tale quality. It's a shame that it probably won't attract people under 60; it should. You couldn't find 4 American actresses to play these parts, because their faces wouldn't move, or be real. These British actresses: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, look real and act real. Judi Dench simply glows with her bright eyes and silver hair.
Each character is developed and interesting. There is no skimming on the surface, and the characters who seems the most unsympathetic, transform and reach us in the end.
The moral of the story is that there is no end until the end, and until then, there are endless possibilites. These retirees, who can't afford to stay in England, find themselves in a real dump, a run down hotel in India, with very rough conditions. But out of this dross comes gold.
Tom Wilkenson does a magnificent job playing a gay man who has never come out as gay before. He does so tentatively, but with resolve and integrity. He is on an E.M. Forster mission of unfinished business. His character and his story give grace to the tale. And the director, John Madden, uses the metaphor of an egret taking wing, with great effect. In fact, that moment, was a standstill moment for me, that caught my breath and took this movie, from an amusing comedy, into an enlightened depth.
The other character that was played brilliantly, was Penelope Wilton's shrewish wife. She is meant to play the villain, but makes us feel her pain, as she contorts her face into a Munch scream. She also suffers one of the most humiliating moments in the movie, and does so with uncommon acting skill.
Dame Maggie Smith, whether playing the Dowager Countess or a woman who was in service, does it with the same elan and indominatable spirit. She transforms a very unlikeable character into a saint, and does so plausibly.
My only quibbles are with the Dev Patel character, who plays a stereotype who is too anxious to please the British. There are shades of Colonialism as these penniless retirees are whirled around in rickshaws and serenaded by desperate street musicians.
Old age is not a picnic. Long marriages don't always last. But there is life, hope, love and adventure after 65, and this is masterfully manifested in this movie. I loved it for the same reasons I love English novels. They know how to tell the truth with wit, wisdom and charm. I highly recommend this movie!