Title: Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot
Genre: Comedy, Family, Romance
Director: Dearbhla Walsh
based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Music: Tim Phillips
Cinematography: Ben Smithard
A cutesy BBC TV movie of Roald’s Dahl’s children book, starring two titanic thespians, Mr. Hoffman and Dame Ms. Dench, it is a life-affirming romance of old age, brandishes the never-too-late-to-fall-in-love trope but outranks it with a more high-minded love-her-even-she-doesn’t-love-me magnanimity, but in the end, it relents from its love-lorn tenor with a mutually love-at-first-sight happenstance.
Mr. Henry Hopper (Hoffman), moons over his neighbor one story below Mrs. Lavinia Silver (Dench), who has a pet tortoise named Alfie, but worries about its stalled growth. To win her heart, a habitually halting Mr. Hopper fabricates an incantation which he named “Esio Trot” (of Bedouin extraction) and declares that through the magic (thrice a day before meals, specifically, Ms. Silver’s meals), Alfie will grow twice as big within one month, which Lavinia accepts with alacrity, she certainly is not the brightest gal in the building (but the heart wants what the heart wants). So Mr. Hopper expends his savings and time in purchasing legions of tortoises with various sizes, so that he can secretively exchange them according to their weight with their predecessor, to conjure up the weight-growing process which predictably will lead to a backfire when bills finally being spilled through a third-wheel played by Cordery with utter chutzpah.
There is hearty charm and warmth in the tall-tale, and some actions too (a septuagenarian Hoffman hanging on a make-shift ladder outside his apartment), chiefly, this adaptation pivots on a good-natured show-down between Hoffman’s introvert ineptness and Dench’s effusive sprightliness, to paper over the story’s implausibility and its rather slipshod production design (too garish in its fairytale-like artificiality), and James Corden, to significantly lower the average age of the cast, assumes the job as an eloquent fourth-wall-breaking raconteur, as well as a slightly mindless father.
Steeped in Louis Armstrong’s repertoire, ESIO TROT (literally “tortoise”, spelt backwards, which is the linchpin of the incantation, though its logic linked to this tardy breed is a head-scratcher), is coyly nostalgic in its mawkishness being a twilight love story based on a whopper cannot even get a free pass in one’s dotage, but it is so rare a movie dedicated itself to that neglected sphere of elder people’s love life, garnished by two winsome performances from its eminent dab-hands, it is a delicate amuse-gueule, as often as not, can muzzle those lenient-hearted from bad-mouthing its saccharine overtone.
referential point: Dustin Hoffman’s QUARTET (2012), 6.0/10