Written and directed by: Guy Browning
This is an affectionately crafted movie, that could easily fit the description of a “Notting Hill”, for the Chipping Campden set.
The tortoise of the title is Tom, gardener to the local manor house, who is profoundly sheepish in expressing his affection for Anya, the newly arrived Polish au pair at the mansion. A sub plot sees young Harry, Anya’s charge, explore his desire for model planes lived out in his wonderfully constructed treehouse world. The film is a delightful rom-com of a confection, that charts how these worlds and dreams collide.
Tom Mitchelson plays his namesake gardener wonderfully, frequently resembling a bumbling, foppish and youthful Hugh Grant. When his romantic denouement with Anya is close to realisation, the similarity between that moment and the famous bookshop scene where Julia Roberts simply asks Grant to love her, is striking. As Anya, Alice Zawadzki is a delightful and beautiful foil to the handsome young Mitchelson’s awkward Englishness.
The plotline is sweetly simple, and Browning wittily documents the mating rituals that both men and women adopt in pursuit of love. At times however the storyline is clichéd and fails to satisfy. Disney’s Mary Poppins introduced us to the wealthy banker who in knowing the cost of everything and the value of far less, became disconnected from his children. To revisit that theme in 2012 needs a re-working that is strong and whilst Harry’s relationship with his banker father is only a minor aspect of the story, it’s portrayal, along with the film’s frequent and somewhat tawdry references to divorce, is shallow and does not do justice to Browning’s storytelling strengths.
Shot in and around the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Kingston Bagpuize, the production is close to unique in having engaged nearly all the village in participation within the story, either in front of or behind the camera. It is likely that not since the sleepy Massachusetts town of Martha’s Vineyard woke up to the arrival of the trucks and trailers of an unknown young director called Steven Spielberg, there to shoot a movie about a shark, has a whole community so thrown itself behind the production of a motion picture.
Making a film with such a strong local perspective of course has its strengths and pitfalls. The budget of the movie for example is helped no-end by the catering for cast and crew being provided by the local WI and similarly the project has garnered deserved recognition for being such an inspirational vehicle for community endeavour. Some of the acting however has the hallmark of an amateur dramatic production and the contrast of these well meaning but nonetheless plodding thespians, set against fellow professionally trained cast members is a distraction.
Visually, the film is a treat. Kingston Bagpuize and its manor house is a beautiful location and the whole production has been stunningly lit and photographed by the Hungarian Balazs Bolygo. With this summer being such a washout, the movie deserves to be seen if only to remind ourselves how idyllic the English village, replete with Summer fete, can be - not to mention a meticulously choreographed display of formation wheelbarrow handling!
The film deserves its theatrical release, but will be best seen at home, where it will make for an enjoyable viewing accompanied by a box of chocolates and a glass of wine.