TURTLE DIARY. Directed by John Irvin; written by Harold Pinter; produced by Richard Johnson for tbe Samuel Goldwyn Co. Starring Ben Kingsley and Glenda Jackson. Rated PG (a couple of discrete bedroom scenes).
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Turtle Diary is a class act. Subtle, peculiar and engrossing, it makes you remember just who won that race with the rabbit, and why. Movies don't have to travel past the speed of sound to be worth seeing.
To be sure, movies that dawdle like this one are not for all tastes. But if you don't mind the leisurely movement, especially when there's good acting and unforeseen plot twists along the way to divert you, you'll enjoy Turtle Diary.
Neaera (Jackson) is an author of children's books, successful at her work, but lonely. William (Kingsley) is a bookstore clerk with a mysterious past and an empty present. The two have many things in common, not the least of which is what ultimately draws them together—their fascination with the London Zoo's green sea turtles.
They learn, independently, that the turtles have been in the same small tank for 30 years. And, also individually, they decide that the animals couldn't possibly be happy. They belong in the ocean.
The acting credentials of Kingsley and Jackson are unsurpassed. And their performances here do not disappoint. Both characters are complex, realistic and likeable. And they're brought to life delicately, with small gestures and intonations.
It's a fairly obvious point that the turtles are symbols for Neaera and William themselves. As William brings up at one point, how do they know that the turtles aren't happy? One does get used to things, you know, even cramped quarters.
The symbolism by no means beats the audience over the head, however. And even if it did, just a bit, the movie's unexpected twists and turns could keep the interest up even under such a load.
And its tantalizing questions, never answered until the last possible moment, if at all, would still keep you guessing. Like, will these two timid people go through with their plan to liberate the turtles? And if they do, will the act be seen as a crime, and our heroes thrown in jail? Or will the public sympathize with the turtles and cheer them on?
Are expressways and truck stops in England much like they are here, (I'll answer this one: yes!) And finally, will William and Neaera find their own freedom as they struggle to give the turtles theirs?
In spite of the scarcity of the usual kind of screen action, Turtle Diary is surprisingly like a who-dunit or suspense movie. You really don't know what's going to happen next, or how it's all going to turn out.
Whoever picked the title for this movie did a beautiful job. Like the movie itself it's a little crazy, and doesn't give away much, but it's definitely intriguing.
June 11, 1986