Turtle Diary (1985)

Turtle Diary (1985)

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

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.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ben Kingsley Films
  • Do Gooders
  • Glenda Jackson Films
  • Misfits

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
  • Glenda Jackson as Neaera Duncan
  • An unusual tale of a uniquely formed bond

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


One thought on “Turtle Diary (1985)

  1. First (and last) viewing. Not must-see. In fact, a H-U-G-E S-N-O-O-Z-E.

    I thought this viewing would never end (and it’s only a little over 90 minutes). I believe the film does telegraph early on re: the general direction it will head in and – once it does – it more or less flatlines.

    The film has about zero energy on just about any level and sort of… plods along. Along the way we get more than anybody’s share of oh-so-typical Pinter dialogue (plenty of teensy, clipped responses; Pinter seems to often be aiming for ‘natural-sounding’ but the speech rhythms often come off as ‘half-dead-sounding’) and a surprising amount of conversation passages that just aren’t believable (~particularly the film’s very unfortunate… and dumb… final sequence).

    It’s no surprise, then, that I stopped caring about any of this not long after the film started and I stayed in that mindset. (In fact, I was very much tempted to bail out of this midway.)

    ‘TD’ is now a forgotten film. Deservedly so.

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