Turtle Diary (1985)
User ReviewsReview this title
Watching these two consummate actors twitch, stare and fume through their roles is part of the charm of the film; there is obviously some mental condition that Jackson's character is suffering from, but we never get a clear idea of what it is. She was at one time was a successful author but seems not to be able to write anymore. Her mind is in some way cornered within a small space trying to break free, in a way that makes her relate to the plight of the turtles. Romance does figure in the film in a major way, but not between the two leads; this is also part of the film's allure. It is wonderful to see Richard Johnson doing even a small acting role; he's delightful as Jackson's neighbor. Kingsley's rooming house occupants are also a varied crew, and his battles with them form the more comic parts of the film.
In the end, this is a quiet, intelligent film about people with problems who struggle to overcome them and help several turtles at the same time. There are no explosions, no running gun battles, no catchphrases. What it does have is a great story and actors, wonderful music, and a marvelous aura to it that is ultimately more memorable than those blockbuster films. I highly recommend it.
In a typical Hollywood production of this story, we would be distracted by an inevitable romance between Jackson and Kingsly, a romance that saves both characters. Or perhaps we would see the turtles bond anthropomorphically with the humans. Thankfully there are no such cheap devices used here. Jackson and Kingsly become stronger and freer as the plan takes shape, but the two only become better defined people by their friendship with each other. As the story evolves, our characters become emancipated. Kingsly's development into a strong, independent man is hilariously illustrated through his confrontations with a slovenly house mate over a dirty bathtub. Both characters develop romances, but not with each other.
It is a lovely story of imprisonment and freedom, well told and beautifully acted. It is a shame this hasn't been released on DVD.
Set in London, "Turtle Diary" could be classified as a love story, although no romance develops between the leads and the lack of romance or interpersonal involvement constrains many of the protagonists. For the most part, the characters are solitary individuals, who exist alone and uninvolved when the film opens. However, as the story progresses, the fortunate form attachments, while those who do not remain confined by their loneliness. The story is slight and obviously intended to provide parallels between the plight of the turtles and those of the characters. Events move slowly, and character trumps plot. "Turtle Diary" is a glowing film for patient viewers, who will be rewarded for their time with excellent performances, memorable characters, and a gentle captivating story.
It sounds trite, but what saves the film from becoming a starry-eyed promotion for Greenpeace is its refusal to rely strictly on charm. The screenplay by Harold Pinter (a refreshingly straightforward adaptation of the novel by Russell Hoban) is built entirely on small gestures and quiet epiphanies, with none of the expected emotional overkill or cheap inspirational grandstanding (there is, for example, no awkward romantic subplot tacked on to the adventure). Glenda Jackson and Ben Kingsley both give typically immaculate performances, and the film itself is likewise quite exhilarating, in its own understated, unassuming sort of way.
As for the anthropomorphism, well, if you really have this idea of freeing all the animals in the zoo, good luck. But please take a few courses on animal behavior first. Not to mention the police side of the undertaking.