Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot Review: Rather Ridiculously Resplendent Reptilian Romance

Though Roald Dahl is best known as one of the most famous writers for children, including this adapted novel in question, Esio Trot has apparently been conceived by director Dearbhla Walsh as a fable for more mature audiences, however magical the tale may be. And specifically featuring octogenarian protagonists, or nearly so, in a decidedly daffy December romance.

Though thankfully and without hopefully giving too much away, the designated elder lovebirds don’t by the end make a grim transition into the usual end of life disease of the week melodrama. On the other hand, there is an ensuing love triangle complicating a potential relationship between these two strangers, however playfully whimsical. And involving namely, a woman deeply obsessed with her pet tortoise. And did I happen to mention that the cryptic title of the movie is actually tortoise spelled backwards? Hold that thought.

The writings of Roald Dahl have often been adapted into movies. Including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantastic Mr Fox, Though oddly enough, he’s penned small screen episodes as well for Alfred Hitchcock Presents with titles like Poison, along Tales Of The Unexpected diabolical sounding gems like Vengeance Is Mine Inc.

Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench are Mr. Hoppy and Mrs. Silver respectively in Esio Trot, neighbors dwelling in a high rise somewhere in a bustling British metropolis. And who primarily encounter one another through formal cross-communication via their his and her balconies – Mr. Hoppy above, and Mrs. Silver below.

esio trot
Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench as Mr. Hoppy and Mrs. Silver, in Esio Trot

And while Mrs. Silver, an elderly widow, spends most of her time swooning over and babbling to her reptilian object of desire Alfie on the lower level outdoors, Mr. Hoppy, an American bachelor, tends to his immensely overgrown balcony garden above. Meanwhile, the hopelessly smitten Mr. Hoppy embarks on a scheme to fill his house with pet turtles, in a rather convoluted proposed path to the ditzy downstairs neighbor’s heart.

And why Mr. Hoppy lives in the UK, or what he’s ever done for a living in his spartan existence, remain a mystery. In a rather sketchy conception of a shy, self-effacing and withdrawn, downbeat character – though with weird voyeurism tendencies at times.

Mrs. Silver in contrast, is on the flamboyant and kooky side, though equally bereft of any back story.

But in the case of Esio Trot, a flaky fantasy seeming in search of an identity of its own too as to whether it wants to appeal to children or adults, none of this hardly seems to matter. Owing to the enormous charisma and charm emanating from this pair of acting legends, no matter what they’re up to.

Prairie Miller
Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express.