Review: Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot – a twinkly wrinkly triumph

Mark Reynolds

Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench are pitch perfect in this delightful BBC adaptation of Dahl’s tortoise-themed tale of late-blooming romance.

Hoffman is Mr Hoppy, a reticent retiree who spends his days tending a bountiful balcony garden that overlooks his voluptuous widowed neighbour Mrs Silver (Dench). Although they talk daily over the railings, Hoppy is too shy to so much as ask Mrs Silver up for a cup of tea – and for five years they’ve been suspended in agonising proximity.

When Mrs Silver acquires a tortoise called Alfie as a companion, she soon becomes worried that her new pet doesn’t appear to be growing. Applying the logic of the fatally tongue-tied, Hoppy devises a convoluted plan to win his secret beloved’s heart via the application of a made-up backwards Bedouin chant, a hundred incrementally larger Alfies and a customised fishing rod.


Image Source: Films 'n' Clips

If his crackpot scheme is doomed to failure, it does bring Hoppy out of his shell, and slowly but surely a heartwarming ending plods into view as the kindly and sparkling seniors are brought together.

The only slug in the lettuce of this otherwise captivating tale comes in the shape of James Corden’s clunky narrator, whose condescending attempts at child-friendly articulation and needless telegraphing of punchlines are pleasingly cut through by some arch asides from precocious kids Roberta (Pixie Davies) and Philip (Joseph West). Whether the narration is needed at all is debatable. Although it contains some nice riffs on the infectiousness of good storytelling, Corden has the unfortunate air of a wrong man in the right film. Other bit players bring much more to the party, including Geoff McGivern’s cagily unscrupulous pet shop owner and Richard Cordery as the overbearing neighbour who fancies himself as Hoppy’s love rival.


Image Source: Esio Trot

All told, this is an easygoing, sturdy, patient, wise and almost faultless interpretation of Dahl’s inventive and tender story.

Buy Esio Trot on DVD

If you enjoy Roald Dahl you’ll love Fantastic Mr Fox, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Family, The BFG and Tales of the Unexpected, available in our Reader’s Digest Shop