In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer
Albert Camus (November 7 1913 – January 4 1960)
There is no way you can escape the charm of this film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ”Esio Trot” by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, directed by Dearbhla Walsh, briskly narrated by James Corden and starring Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman.
The two living legends meet on-screen and you instantly know they were meant for each other. It isn’t so much their brilliant, effortless performances -this has become second nature for them by now- but their obvious rapport, a bond they share that seems to go deeper and beyond the set; and the fact that they seem to enjoy themselves immensely in doing what they do best: acting.
Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman is one of the most endearing, charming, loving couples you’ve ever seen on-screen. Such a perfect match it will have you wonder why on earth did they have to wait so long to start working together.
All the while, they’re being supported by ”Mr Potato-Head-Pringle”, Richard Cordery who gives a perfectly irritating performance, ranging from mildly annoying to downright malicious, the lively narration by James Corden and about a hundred tortoises of various sizes, from small to large to enormous, this touching, feel-good story is your instant pick-me-up when everything else fails.
For Esio Trot is a story about love, an ode to life and a reminder that there is neither age limit nor expiration date to happiness.
It goes like this:
Mr Hoppy is a quite, shy man who lives alone in a nice flat in an apartment block in London
Besides jazz and fishing, there are two loves in his life: one is his flowers, the other is a secret love he keeps all to himself
Mr Hoppy is in love with the girl downstairs
Mr Hoppy is so shy he doesn’t dare ask Mrs Silver out. Fortunately, there are those brief encounters in the lift. Days, months, whole seasons go by and Mr Hoppy loves Lavinia every day a little more… Well, wouldn’t you?
Yes you would… And if you found out that the love of your life was raising money for charity at the Dance Marathon, you’d sponsor her for ”a pound-a-minute” too! Mrs Silver danced her socks of for four hours fifty minutes – a true dancing queen
But there is something that bothers Mr Hoppy: Mrs Silver doesn’t live alone. She did for many years until she decided to do something about it. Now, Mrs Silver lives with Alfie
She nurtures him, cuddles him, talks to him, reads him stories… she has only one concern: no matter how hard she tries, Alfie refuses to grow
– One day I’ll find the right food, and the right exercise regime, and the right vitamin supplement…. Then at last we’ll both be happy, wont’ we darling?
So Mr Hoppy sets about to make Lavinia happy. Because he thought, if he could maker her happy then maybe, just maybe he might be worthy of winning her heart
Mr Hoppy suddenly ”remembered” an extraordinary tortoise-size-related secret from a Bedouin tribesman: a Bedouin tortoise chant!
Esio trot, esio trot, teg reggib reggib, emoc no esio trot. Worg pu, ffup pu, toohs pu…
Gnirps pu, wolb pu…
Mrs Silver is to whisper it to Alfie three times a day before meals, without fail. With these magic words Alfie will grow bigger and bigger. Actually, the words are reversed: Tortoise, tortoise, get bigger bigger! Come on, tortoise, grow up, puff up, shoot up! Spring up, blow up… but it ”must be read backwards because tortoises are very backwards creatures. So they would only understand words that are spoken backwards”.
Mrs Silver: … Gnirps pu, wolb pu… (Well, thank goodness I’m not asking you to sip up anything)…
There’s a lot of pu’s in it…
So Mr Hoppy puts his cunning plan into action: it involves several trips to local pet shops, frequent dipping into his savings box and the invasion of his apartment by hundreds of Alfie’s cousins that come in all sizes
Esio trot, esio trot, teg reggib reggib, emoc no esio trot…
By the way, did you know that tortoises love strawberries?
And once Mrs Silver leaves her apartment, Mr Hoppy springs into action – up goes Alfie 1, down goes Alfie 2. Over the next eight weeks, Mr Hoppy goes on switching ”Alfie” with a slightly larger one, so that Mrs Silver won’t notice:
Until one day…:
– Mr Hoppy! Something very extraordinary has happened! And quite marvelous! Alfie can’t get through his door! He must have got bigger! Oh you did it Mr Hoppy! You’re my miracle man!
Mrs Silver invites Hoppy downstairs to see for himself how Alfie has doubled in size:
Hoppy: I’d quite forgotten it was Christmas!
Mrs Silver: Oh, it isn’t. I just like to get my tree up on the first day of August. What’s the point in getting old if you can’t break the rules?
Mrs Silver: Can I ask you a question? Would it be alright if I came up later and had another look at your balcony? I think it’s one the Seven Wonders of the World.
But before Mrs Silver could answer off went the doorbell, and:
Mr Pringle: Might this little chap belong to you?
The doubt… the realisation…
The confrontation… the sadness…
A man that would go to such trouble to make a woman’s dreams come true, must be very exceptional indeed
Mrs Silver: The answer to your earlier question is yes. I will marry you. Thank you very much for asking!
You can read more about The Story Behind The Making, in an interview with Richard Curtis here.
Roald Dahl’s books are adorned by Quentin Blake’s distinctive illustrations. More about the artist and his work can be found here.
Viewed on 25 January 2015