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Tortoise in Love
Tortoise in Love. Directed by Guy Browning.
Small budgets don’t necessarily equal small packages – independently funded and packed full of heart, Tortoise in Love is a British rom-com without the unrealistic glitz and glamour.
Tom (Tom Mitchelson) returns from the big smoke – unemployed and drifting – to the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside. Taking a job as gardener at the town’s big house, he makes friends with the homeowner’s neglected son, Harry (Tom Yates), and becomes the talking point of the whole village when he falls (disastrously) in love with Harry’s Polish au pair, Anya (Alice Zawadzki). Set on the backdrop of the annual village fete, Tom tries and tries to overcome his fear of women and make a move on Anya – with a little help from the townspeople.
This low-budget, independent flick is a beautifully sweet portrayal of love, without the Hollywood style boy-meets-girl narrative. The way Tom stumbles and fails, takes advice from everyone but his own heart, and studies the art of love is the most realistic portrayal of falling in love I have seen since (500) Days of Summer.
The great thing about Tortoise is the way it blends Tom’s relationships issues into a whole host of character studies. It is as if we have been dropped off into this English village, and we are peeking behind the windows into people’s lives. There is no introduction to their flaws or background, but we get snippets of each character that needs no real explanation – the bawdy tart, the husband and wife innkeepers, the rich banker, the newlyweds. We are shown their lives, get to know them for an hour and a half, and then no sooner we have been introduced we are off again.
There are also strong ideas behind Toms romance: the annual village fete and the dilemma of coming up with a theme, Harry’s neglectful father and even extramarital affairs in the town. The film treats them all with a light hand, making sure don’t get too attached to the characters so we can chuckle and laugh at their misgivings in the nicest way possible.
In fact, the dilemma of the village fete is more the star of the show than Tom and Anya. Anyone who has been to an A & P Show or country fair will understand what I mean when I say, these events are filled with warm-hearted country folk and unusual activities are always the highlight of the show. In Tortoise’s case, the fete has a horse race (not your usual kind) and a husband and wife challenge (not what you would expect). It’s frivolous fun, but it shows a real community spirit as it takes a village to put it together.
And just as it takes a village to put on a fair, it takes a village to raise a man – i.e. Tom. Channeling a young Hugh Grant, Tom Mitchelson is dashing, naïve and incapable when it comes to women. Much like life, he goes to every married couple in the village, looking for answers to his feelings and the best way to approach his love. It is refreshing to see a protagonist who wasn’t confident, abnormally handsome and bumbled through life – like most of us.
Other notable mentions go to the “gaggle of gooses” – the café women who spend their days gossiping and meddling in Tom’s love affairs, dishing out terrible advice to Anya and battling their own relationship dramas. Sexual innuendos are rife here. On the other side of that coin, the group of working men – the husbands – who counteract their wives, filling Tom’s head with ridiculous notions of what women want.
There were moments of light chuckles to serious laugh out loud jokes – it’s a good, fun laugh that I went in with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised on a cold winter’s night.
Crowd pleaser? The village fete. Watching grown men partake in a horse and jockey race of a different kind, and the spirit of the countryside as everyone pulls together to get the event happening. The fete is the real star of the show.
Stage dive? The prost-production. Considering the film was shot on an extremely low budget, many of the cuts between two people having a conversation feel jaunted and take a bit of getting used to. The dialogue can also at times feel a bit stilted.
Curtain call? An light-hearted film – nowhere near the comedy of The Full Monty or Calendar Girls as the marketing suggests – but go in expecting to have your heart warmed.
By Laura Weaser
19 June 2012