Beguiling, beautiful, bewitching and brilliant are all words that spring to mind when talking about the television movie adaptation by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer of one of his last short stories for children written by this English novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter and fighter pilot extraordinaire Roald Dahl (1916-1990).
Published in 1990, Esio Trot (Tortoise back the front) is a delightful story that has become surely one of the most special television events in ages one that bridges the gap between adults and children.
I am constantly surprised to find out how many people haven’t yet acquainted themselves with Roald Dahl’s adult stories, at least with My Uncle Oswald (1979) who for a while had to be carried around in a brown paper bag!!!
Erotic, exotic, excellent and exciting, every emotion and all the senses were engaged by this master of the written word. Every time I bought my children a book of his from the late 60’s onward, I would purchase one of his adult stories for myself.
He is without doubt one of my favourite authors of all time. For Dahl age is just a number, and you could say there was never a ‘Dahl’ moment in this as two wonderful people find love in the autumn of their lives.
Recently screening on ABC TV, Esio Trot was narrated with heartfelt affection and just the right touch by James Corden. It featured Dustin Hoffman (77) as perhaps the most perfect, patient, good, generous and loveable man imaginable, with Dame Judy Dench (79) as his shimmering and sparkling neighbour Mrs Silver.
As one of my best friends commented: ‘… it was so wonderful to watch two superb professionals exercising their exceptional skills’.
Directed by Dearbhla Walsh and with a script based on Dahl’s novel by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, this charming piece was not too maudlin nor too twee, cynical or jaded.
It was an uplifting inspiring movies for television about the vagaries of life, the challenges of ageing and how truelove never really goes out of style at, or in any age.
Shy by nature Mr Hoppy spends his life nurturing the plants on his balcony in a modernist apartment block in an English inner city suburb.
He turns it into an evocation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – the brightest and lushest perfect miniature garden yet seen.
This riot of colour and beauty is nurtured by an overhead watering system forged with ingenuity so that it will rain down on his hollyhocks, snap-dragons, roses and all the other old fashioned flowers, which seemed to me to light up and glow more brightly as their affectionate carer approached.
Hoppy has a few neighbours he meets up with from time to time, including the slightly overwhelming Mr Pringle played with great ‘dash’ by Richard Cordery, who also has designs on Mrs Silver whom Hoppy loves and admires from afar. Hoppy’s balcony advantageously overlooks Mrs Silver’s balcony below, enabling him to secretly observe the love of his life, lean over and converse with her at a distance.
After all it is now five years since they first met in the lift and he still hasn’t gathered up the courage to invite her to share a cup of tea.
One morning there is a change however, as Mrs. Silver arrives on the balcony with a new companion to share her life. She and Alfie, the Tortoise become devoted to each other, although Mrs Silver confides in Hoppy she’s worried about his lack of growth.
Worrying like a mother over a new born child, Hoppy’s touched by Mrs. Silver’s suffering and decides to help her by making her dreams of Freddie doubling his weight come true. Dame Judy deliciously chants a delightful ‘Bedouin’ style magical poem Hoppy writes and convinces her will help.
ESIO TROT, ESIO TROT,
TEG REGGIB REGGIB!
EMOC NO, ESIO TROT,
WORG PU, FFUP PU, TOOHS PU!
GNIRPS PU, WOLB PU, LLEWS PU!
EGROG! ELZZUG! FFUTS! PLUG!
TUP NO TAF, ESIO TROT, TUP NO TAF!
TEG NO, TEG NO, ELBBOG DOOF!
It’s all handled with such ‘elan’ that Roald Dahl himself would have been sure to smile broadly.
Hoppy starts visiting pet shops run by obliging and engaging owners all over the town to bring his idea to fruition.
He purchases just on a 100 tortoises who all come to share his flat where he names, weighs and records them all, ready to put his plan into action.
Creating an ingenious extending handling tool in his workshop, each day for more than two months he dangles over the balcony carefully removing and replacing Freddie with a look alike tortoise.
Each one weighs just one ounce more than the previous one. Hilarity prevails, as it doesn’t always go to plan.
Eventually one day however Mrs Silver observes Alfie is just too wide to fit through the door of the little house she has provided for him and the look on her face is all delight.
Her beloved Alfie has grown.
Hoppy is delighted but cannot control the events that will follow.
It’s so rare to see such intelligent nonsense on screen.
Roald Dahl was a master at weaving stories that touch on the quirky side of human nature.
The charm of this doesn’t stop during the telling. It lingers long afterwards, until like Alfie’s growth, it turns into a thing of wonder and bridges generational gaps in such a delightful way.
Every line twinkles and shines, every moment of the story telling has been polished to perfection.
Everything comes together sweetly as Dame Judy mesmerizes and twinkles as Mrs Silver.
Mr Hoppy as channelled by Mr Hoffman, is everything wonderful.
Camera close ups reveal the delight on his face, the twinkle in his eye and the depth of the love that radiates from him with such eloquence, words really aren’t necessary.
Just loved it.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Watch the Trailer