Turtle Diary (1985)

“Nobody’s interested in turtles — except the keeper, me… and you.”

Turtle Diary Poster

An author (Glenda Jackson) and a bookstore clerk (Ben Kingsley) conspire with a zookeeper (Michael Gambon) to steal caged sea turtles at the zoo and free them into the ocean.


The synopsis for this unusual “caper flick” — based on a novel by the eclectic expat author Russell Hoban, and scripted by playwright Harold Pinter — is a bit misleading, given that the turtle heist in question is essentially a proxy for the deeper theme of how finding a sense of purpose and passion in one’s life can serve as the ultimate liberating force. The characters played by Kingsley and Jackson are both deeply idiosyncratic misfits, living on the fringes to one extent or the other — Jackson is oddly emotionally reserved; Kingsley rooms in a boarding house despite having a wife and kids somewhere in his past — and while the thematic parallel between freeing turtles and freeing one’s inner self is perhaps a bit too obvious, it’s thankfully never hammered over our heads. The literate screenplay goes in unusual directions (i.e., romance emerges, but not as expected), making this one worth a look for fans of eclectic character studies.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ben Kingsley as William Snow
    Turtle Diary Kingsley
  • Glenda Jackson as Neaera Duncan
    Turtle Diary Jackson
  • An unusual tale of a uniquely formed bond
    Turtle Diary Friendship

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look. Listed as a Personal Recommendation and a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


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