TORTOISE IN LOVE
When gardener Tom (Tom Mitchelson) returns to his home town of Kingston Bagpuize in Oxfordshire after three years studying, he is book smart but women shy. As assistant gardener to Albert (Mike Kemp) at the estate of the wealthy Jason Grandage (Duncan Armitage), he soon becomes part of the household and gets to know the staff, which includes the new Polish au-pair Anya (Alice Zawadzki) who is here for the summer to take care of the Grandages' young son Harry (Tom Yates). There's an instant attraction between Tom and Anya, but Tom is tongue-tied and has no idea how to progress the relationship. The caring locals and Harry lend a hand.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's an easy charm about Guy Browning's debut film Tortoise in Love that is not only set in Kingston Bagpuize, Oxfordshire, but whose community members became involved in its making. Funded locally, the production was boosted immeasurably by the spirit and hard work of the locals. Albeit slight, it's a sweet romantic comedy whose sensibility is decidedly English and much of its appeal comes from the genuine ambience the characters provide. The boy meets girl story is reasonably predictable, although as is often the case, it is the journey, not the destination that brings the film its uniqueness.
When we first meet Tom (Mitchelson), travelling by train back home to Oxfordshire, we quickly understand his problem. He has no idea how to deal with women and it seems the men of Oxfordshire are renowned for doing things slowly. Browning sets the scene by introducing each of the characters - as if they are part of folklore. Harry (Tom Yates), who is back home from boarding school, is a lonely kid and is closer to Albert (Mike Kemp) the head gardener of the Upstairs Downstairs house which is his home, than his remote father Jason (Duncan Armitage).
When told his son is home, he preposterously asks 'Why?' Anya (Alice Zawadzki) is the latest in a long line of au-pair girls employed to keen an eye on Harry, but her eyes light up as soon as she sees Tom. Tom, Albert's new gardening assistant, also notices Anya, but is too shy to do anything about it: he is tongue-tied and awkward every time she approaches.
It is the people around Tom and Anya who are by far the most interesting. Like the girls in the Kingston coffee shop, who compare men to cakes - like the caramel fudge cake, which is tempting but makes you sick after a while and the coffee cake that satisfies in ways men cannot imagine.
There is also a long line of delectable men characters who are given the opportunity to show their appeal during the annual local fete in which they all dress up as jockeys wearing pantomime horses. When Brendan (Steven Elder) gives Tom the well meaning tip that if you want to give a woman a complement, just say something to do with hair, eyes, shoes and weight, you can bet the result will be funny.
It's a pity there is not more charisma between Mitchelson and Zawadszki: Mitchelson is reminiscent of Hugh Grant (with less charisma) and Zawadzki is lovely. That is not to say however, we do not care about Tom and Anya getting together: we do, if only for the sake of the rest of the colourful community that has won our hearts. On another note, the use of the voice-over narrator throughout tends to keep the tale at arm's length, instead of welcoming us into the community.
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TORTOISE IN LOVE (PG)
CAST: Tom Mitchelson, Alice Zawadzki, Tom Yates, Mike Kemp, Steven Elder, Duncan Armitage, Des Brittain, Sharon Gavin, Anna Scott, Kate Terence, Ivan Kaye, Philip Herbert
PRODUCER: Steffan Aquarone
DIRECTOR: Guy Browning
SCRIPT: Guy Browning
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Balazs Bolygo
EDITOR: Dave Stephenson
MUSIC: Geoff Cottrell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jan Carlisle
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 16, 2012 (selected cinemas: NSW (Roseville and Narooma))