The theme of older people falling in love is one evident across our TV screens as the moment. No longer are we satisfied with the idea of two twenty-somethings blindly falling in love with no life experience. We want something more realistic and something we – the British public – can engage with. First Last Tango in Halifax, and now Esio Trot, have shown that love isn’t just for the young.
Based on the story by Roald Dahl, Esio Trot tells the story of a man named Mr Hoppy (Dustin Hoffman) who falls in love with the widow who lives downstairs, Mrs Silver (Judi Dench). Mrs Silver, however, has another passion in life – tortoises, and in particular her little tortoise Alfie. The problem is Alfie is a little bit too small and Mrs Silver wants to see him grow. It’s physically impossible; but Mr Hoppy , desperate to secure the affections of Mrs Silver, sets out on a mission to help Alfie grow, with a little help from some clever stand-in tortoises and a poem he made up.
The stars of Esio Trot, Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench, are impressive names to bag for what seems like such a small scale adaptation. There is almost the worry that they would be perhaps too big for the part. Whilst watching the adaptation, however, one realises that this fear is simply unfounded; Judi Dench shines as the beautifully glamourous and ever-so-slightly ditsy Mrs Silver. However, there is something very understated about the performance of Dustin Hoffman. Gone is the usual charm and confidence; indeed, this character seems to be a bit of a departure for him, but one that I think suits him. He is measured and visibly nervous. Sadly, he does seem to slip into his old ways at the end, but given the state of Mr Hoppy at the finale, I think we can allow him some of Hoffman’s usual charisma. Credit must also be given to James Corden, who must have the softest voice in show business, as the narrator of the piece; Corden reminds you that this is, after all, a story written for children without being overly patronising.
Having not read the book myself I cannot comment on how it works as an adaptation, although some research has proved that there has been at least one major change in the plot; Mrs Silver learns of what Mr Hoppy has been doing, which is not evident in the book. Fans of Roald Dahl, though, should not despair, for the whimsy and charm of his novels is definitely evident, especially in the set of Mr Hoppy’s terrace, which is a wonder to behold. Sometimes the plot does appear to be repetitive –Mr Hoppy seems to be constantly at the pet shop – or slow, especially when Mr Hoppy changes his mind so often about what to do about his feelings for Mrs Silver. This may be consistent with the book, but as a TV programme it does seem to slow down the action.
The style of the programme, however, is most distinct, switching between the ‘live action’ of Mr Hoppy and Mrs Silver, and the goings-on of the narrator as we follow him picking up his daughter from school. Eventually the two sides meet in the climax of the tale; they’re both so cleverly shot that you don’t realise the connection between them until the end. The style was one of the features I most enjoyed about the show; it made it stand out from other similar tales around during the festive period.
All in all, was a treat that the whole family was able to enjoy. It demonstrated the magic that a fabulous cast and a brilliant book adaptation can create. It proved the mastery that Roald Dahl had over language, and the lengths people will go to for love and tortoises.