Oh! What fun!
Old Jack comes to you a stunned man who has had his soul refreshed…
For two hours in the unexpectedly sparkly company of Judi Dench (sparkly and a bit dim) and Dustin Hoffman (pre #metoo, shy and adoring of Dench’s sparkly) in a colourful combination of Richard Curtis and Roald Dahl‘s heads is…well, so heartening an old man might skip or possibly sing. Huzzah for Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot!
Hoffman plays Mr Hoppy, who pretty much lives for the plants on the balcony of his flat, utterly in love with Dench’s Mrs Silver who pretty much lives on the balcony below with her small tortoise. Hoppy adores her, but is so shy he cannot say. And, let’s be clear, this is so nicely done you won’t even think of puking.
And……………. I’m ignoring that the Weinsteins co-produced this film and that a couple of the tortoises are named after them. Get with the joy, people.
Tortoises. Spell Esio Trot backwards and, like My Hoppy tells Mrs Silver, the bedouin chant of backwards-English will make your tortoise grow bigger, faster. His plan is to trigger her love for him by smuggling a bigger tortoise onto her balcony every day until she has one as huge as her heart demands. To make this work, Hoppy buys every tortoise in London, filling his flat with wandering shells, and winching them down to her balcony when her back is turned.
Silly. Funny. Gently done. Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, with the deft edits of Emma Freud, make this tale of two old folk finding each other really rather wonderful. For their age is the least of things – and in this kind of fairy tale that seems important. They have slapstick (Hoffman’s stuntman has a bit of work to do dangling off balconies) and Richard Cordery as Mr Pringle, a competitor for Mrs Silver’s affections. He is lanky and presumptuous, charming and detestable. Old Jack’s favourite scene, played out as knowing, tortoisely-paced slapstick, is the meal between all corners of this love triangle: enmity, adoration and duped stupidity bounce about over a meal made between a hundred hidden tortoises. Lovely stuff.
James Corden is the narrator telling us and his adorable daughter the story of Mr Hoppy and his love plan. He exists in Richard Curtis World, a London of bright lights, clean buses and directorial tricks (frames and a mirror, that’s all I’m saying). He outstays his welcome, to be honest, but perhaps that’s just respect for Roald Dahl the author going a smidge too far. The fairy tale needs its teller.
I’ll not rabbit on. This is a film warm enough to dump the review and go watch now. There is a final tension, as in all such films. A risk has to be taken. An ending results…but you should enjoy that with a pile of sugary things and your grandkids at your side. Quit reading this and let tortoises and love rule your day.
And leave your cynicism in bed.