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The cast of 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' - including Bill Nighy (left) Dame Judi Dench (center), Dev Patel (6th left) and Celia Imrue (right) arriving for the UK premiere. (Yui Mok/AP Images)

How many recognizable British stars, senior division, can you cram into one movie? The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel manages to feature more than a half dozen, and since most of these stars are getting on in years, better to praise them now rather than wait.

The movie is a fun romp about a group of English geezers who move to a dilapidated hotel in Jaipur, India in hopes of living more cheaply in retirement. It opens today (Friday, May 4).

Its impressive cast includes Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy and Celia Imrie. (As a bonus, Julie Christie puts in a brief appearance near the end.)

At the opposite end of the age curve is Dev Patel, the young Anglo-Indian actor who became a star in Slumdog Millionaire. In Marigold Hotel, he plays an ambitious Indian entrepreneur attempting desperately to save his family’s hotel by turning it into a retirement home for British senior citizens.

For anyone having trouble connecting names with faces and credits, here is a refresher course on the curriculum vitae of the major senior cast members:

Dame Maggie Smith, 77, is currently riding a giant wave of popularity due to her acerbic portrayal of the Dowager Countess in the hit British series, Downton Abbey. She also is revered by young fans for her multiple turns as Prof. Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films over the past decade. The London-born actress has won two Oscars (a Best Actress for 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Best Supporting Actress for 1978’s California Suite, and has nabbed an additional four nominations).

Dame Judi Dench, 77, a seasoned British stage and sitcom star (A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By), was less well known in the U.S. than her good friend Dame Maggie. She finally achieved worldwide stardom in her sixties, winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her tart turn as Queen Elizabeth I in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. She has worked steadily in films ever since, including popping up as M, James Bond’s first female boss, in six 007 films. Little known fact: Dench sings, having starred on the West End in productions of Cabaret and A Little Night Music and the 2009 movie musical Nine.

Tom Wilkinson, 64, is among the most reliable of character actors. He has twice been nominated for Oscars (for Best Actor for 2001’s In the Bedroom and Best Supporting Actor for 2007’s Michael Clayton). He has made something of a sub-specialty of playing famous American historical figures, including Ben Franklin in HBO’s John Adams mini-series – for which he won a Golden Globe award – and Joseph Kennedy Sr. in the Reel Channel’s The Kennedys mini-series.

Penelope Wilton, 65, is probably best known to American audiences these days as Isobel Crawley, the frequent target of Maggie Smith’s barbs in Downton Abbey. The veteran actress has a mile-long resume, which includes stage work, films and TV (including the BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles and four appearances within the past decade on Doctor Who). Also worth noting, her ex-husbands include respected British actors Daniel Massey and Ian Holm.

Bill Nighy, 62, is another veteran British stage star who achieved film stardom well into middle age, when he ramped up with charismatic turns in blockbusters as diverse as two of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and three of the Underworld vampire horror flicks. He first gained notice on the big screen with his hilarious performance as an aging rocker in the 1998 British comedy, Still Crazy, and played a variation on the role to even greater acclaim in 2003’s Love Actually. That same year, he impressed as a bureaucrat in the BBC’s State of Play mini-series. His sly wit, often accompanied by a slight stammer or hesitancy in speaking, makes him the go-to Englishman to cast when looking for a smart fellow whom others will likely underestimate.

Celia Imrie, 59, has one of those faces many Americans will recognize but have no clue where they’ve seen her before. Think Bridget Jones’s Diary, Calendar Girls, Nanny McPhee and many other British films, as well as such TV series as After You’ve Gone, Kingdom and last month’s Titanic mini-series. She is probably best known, at least in England, for her work on TV alongside good friends and funny ladies Julie Walters and Victoria Wood, with whom she costarred in Acorn Antiques, a soap opera spoof, and Dinnerladies, about a factory cafeteria. Her greatest claim to fame, however, may be that she played Fighter Pilot Bravo 5, the first female pilot in a Star Wars movie in the Star Wars series in 1999’s Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace.


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By Leah Rozen