By the Seashore
At the Movies
Directed by John Irvin
At the Nickelodeon Cinema
GO AND SEE Turtle Diary just to hear Glenda Jackson pronounce the word "turtle." She utters the word with the same subtlety which John Irvin uses to direct the film, both understated and graceful to the ear as well as to the eye.
But the movie is so understated that you are likely to come out wondering what you just saw on the screen. It's pace is comparable to that of other films exploring gentle human frailties--not unlike the flow of Local Hero, a movie which captures the odd habits of a small and quaint community and the idiosyncracies of its inhabitants.
On the surface, the movie is about the theft of three large sea turtles. Beneath that plot line, Turtle Diary takes us ever so gently into the lives of two Britons who are struggling to find contentment within their simple lives.
William Snow (Kingsley) and Neaera Duncan (Jackson) are turtle lovers, particular admirers of three large sea turtles housed in a small display case at the nearby zoo. They think that the turtles, denizens of their cramped quarters for nearly 30 years, should be freed and released to their more comfortable natural home.
The two visit the zoo often, glimpsing at the large creatures in the clear tank as often as they can. With the wonder of children wrapped in the cynicism of unfulfilled dreams, they gaze at the turtles wishing that for once they can do something for their fellow man, or turtle, as the case may be.
DISAPPOINTED WITH THEIR ordinary lives, Snow and Duncan decide to transform their wild dreams into a smoothly executed reality. Enlisting the aid of a zookeeper who sympathizes with the two would-be theives, the two set out to free the lonely reptiles.
When not at the zoo, we return to the boarding house in which Snow lives to watch a variety of odd and lonely people attempt to interact with each other. Tension in these scenes centers on Snow's impatience with a fellow boarder who fails to clean the various messes he leaves around the house. Eventually, the well-mannered Snow succumbs to an urge to punch the boarder, though Snow lands on his back in the end.
Harriet (Harriet Walter) is Snow's partner at the bookshop which they own, seemingly discontented with her simple role selling books and her inability to attract Snow's attention. She finally manages a congenial smile when Neara, the author of a famous series of children's books, walks into the bookshop.
ONCE THE COMPARISON is made between the lonely people living in a small boarding house and the pitifully dispirited turtles, all that is left is to witness the two thieves' metamorphosis, of course, never overstated. After Neara and Snow regain their long-lost youthful courage by plotting the theft, Snow turns to Harriet one day in their bookshop and compliments her on her dress. No emotional plea, or philosophic soliloquy. Just a couple of kind words and a coy blush from Harriet.
The movie features some beautiful shots of turtles gliding freely through the open see, smiling at their newly-found freedom. There is also the acting of stars Jackson and Kingsley which gives the film whatever focus it does possess. Along with their supporting cast, they spice up the movie with their oddball humor. When asked if he thought he had been a good father, Snow replies, "My daughters thought so, but they were only children at the time."
Even though Turtle Diary is beautiful to watch--not to mention listen to--and the performances of Kingsley and Jackson are, as usual, outstanding, there seems to be something missing, or perhaps, with such subtle direction, the point is tough to grasp. Whatever the problem is, when you leave the theater you'll probably wonder what just happened while uttering the word "turtle" in the best Glenda Jackson imitation you can muster.