TV Film Review: Esio Trot

If you’ve read my review of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical that I saw in the West End earlier this year, you will know that I am something of a Roald Dahl fan. And so, when I saw that the BBC were showing an adaptation of Esio Trot, written by Richard Curtis, on New Year’s Day, it wasn’t a hard guess to say I’d been sitting down to watch it.

Not knowing anything more about this new production aside from a brief advert, and having quickly reacquainted myself to Dalh’s tale of Alfie, Mr Hoppy and Mrs Silver, by reading his original story, I settled in not really knowing what to expect and intrigued as to how they would bring the weirdly wonderful story to life. What I got though, wasn’t as much a retelling of Dahl’s classic, but rather a reimagining that felt the same but instead of missing the point, completely changed it.

Richard Curtis - Esio Trot

The first thing that really struck me was Curtis has changed the age range of the story. The book is very much aimed at children, and young children at that. There is, for instance, the line about tortoises “when they sleep during winter, this is called hibernation”. Which should explain the level at which Dahl intended his readership to be. Yet the film is looking to attract an older audience for some reason. I almost felt that it was aimed purely at an adult populace, forgetting it’s original literary target and that’s a shame.

Especially, as Esio Trot is essentially a light hearted, fun bed time story. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to read and isn’t meant to be overly serious. But the film seems to once again forget this about it’s source. They’ve stretched it out to 90 minutes, and to do this they’ve changed the tone and the flow of the story. Inventing a character to act as the complication, the foil to the love affair of man, woman and tortoise. And this new characters does nothing more than add an uneasy layer of sleaze and slim to the tale in a way that felt unnecessary and un-Dahl like. And while the original tale, in it’s published form wouldn’t make a structured film I will admit, they’ve gone just a bit to far with their inventions.

James Cordon - Esio Trot

Judi Dench plays Mrs Silver and so should have been a safe pair of hands in the role and yet I found her difficult to watch. She just didn’t feel right for the part. There is something about her look, and for me, she brought Mrs Silver to life in a way that came across as far too naive and thick, bordering on almost being nothing more than a simpleton, which she is never portrayed as in the book. Dustin Hoffman as Mr Hoppy gets it right and manages to hold everything today from falling into too much of a farce but whoever thought that James Cordon should narrate it needs to be asked some serious questions. I’m not Cordon’s biggest fan anyway, but he’s just totally wrong for this. In the way that you can’t see Colin Firth voicing Paddington Bear, James Cordon doesn’t have the authority or believability to convince as the narrator. He feels more informative than story teller and it ruins the feel of the piece.

And with everything added together, it just falls flat and that is such a shame because while it was never going to be a classic; Esio Trot is not The BFG, the source material is light and silly and fun and daft and should have made an interesting adaptation to welcome in 2015. But instead they’ve managed to stretch out a concoction that left me bemused and befuddled. It’s not great, it’s not good and it wasn’t that bad. But it was just polite and pointless and ultimately uninteresting.

They really missed a trick with Esio Trot, because if they’d made it an hour, aimed it at young children and stuck it on mid-afternoon they could have introduced an entire new generation to the back catalogue to Dalh, but instead they attempted to hook those already converted and lost sight of what made it magic in the first place.

(5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Television First Edition

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