Dame Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman are set to appear together in a BBC adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book, Esio Trot, by Four Weddings and Notting Hill writer Richard Curtis.
Hoffman will play love-struck bachelor Mr Hoppy, who attempts to woo local tortoise-fancier Mrs Silver (Dench) by pretending to have magical powers.
The 90-minute TV film will be scripted by Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer (co-writer of The Vicar of Dibley and Radio 4’s Old Harry’s Game), and directed by Dearbhla Walsh, who won an Emmy for her work on Little Dorrit.
Esio Trot has only been adapted once before, as a stage show currently showing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Ben Pope, who plays Mr Hoppy in the stage version, spoke to Radio Times about his expectations for the film.
“Hearing about it for the first time was kind of a little worrying – everyone was a bit, ‘Oh God, no-one’s going to remember our version.’ But obviously they’re very different beasts. Ryan [Ammar, who wrote the stage-play] made ours very much about the tortoise. He relates it back to the animals, but it seems in the film they’re going for a close look at the romantic relationship, which is interesting. If you’re going for that angle, getting Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench is a very good move.”
And what about Richard Curtis’s influence? “It depends on how it’s being written. I imagine it’ll be quite a cutesy thing, quite different to Ryan’s script, which is obviously for children but with touches of slightly darker stuff. It’s quite darkly funny – [Mr Hoppy] is quite a creepy man, really.
"Obviously, it would be presumptuous for me to offer Dustin Hoffman advice, but ... Dustin should practice his best slightly maniacal sneers. He’s a strange character. It’s a very strange book, to be honest. The moral of the story isn’t particularly prevalent. It’s about a guy who tricks a woman into marrying him. We had to jazz it up a bit for kids. The trick is to make him lovable, but also a bit creepy – it’s quite a hard line to tread.”
Pope isn’t the only person in Edinburgh to be excited by the news. Speaking at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Charlotte Moore, controller of BBC1, described the casting of Dench and Hoffman as “absolutely stellar,” calling Esio Trot “one of the nation’s favourite children’s classics.”
Moore also spoke about the importance of diversity in TV programming, saying that she thought the BBC was not doing enough to ensure equal representation for women. “I've been speaking with other [BBC] executives about more women," she said.
"I think more women protagonists would be great. The breadth is there but it is important we go on looking for new stories and new ways of telling stories … I think the BBC do quite a good job of diversity [but] it is not enough.
"Industry-wide we all know we need to do much more ... on screen and off screen. And actually I think those things go hand in hand. We need more diverse voices working behind the scenes to bring those stories in a more authentic real way".
The stage version of Esio Trot is playing at The Assembly George Square, Edinburgh, at 10.30am until 25 August