It could be straight out of a movie, but it is, in fact, a re-enactment of one of their scenes in a new TV adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s classic Esio Trot.
The dance is Hoffman’s idea, a gesture to show his co-star he’s improved somewhat since they shot the original moves. “I’m not a dancer,” admits the two-time Oscar winner once they’ve taken their seats again. “I had a couple of lessons before we filmed and I thought: ‘I’m not going to be ready’. But then we had a lesson together and Dearbhla [Walsh, the director] became enchanted with the way we were naturally doing it.”
Published in 1990, Esio Trot tells the tale of Mr Hoppy (Hoffman), a kind but shy elderly gentleman who, for many years, has been in love with his flamboyant neighbour Mrs Silver (Dench). While they exchange pleasantries over the balcony, he’s far too timid to tell her how he really feels. But then Mr Hoppy discovers Mrs Silver’s greatest wish is for her pet tortoise Alfie to grow a little bigger, and he hatches a plan in an attempt to win the love of his lady.
“I knew the story because I’ve read it to many children,” says York-born Dench. “And they did say Dustin Hoffman’s name,” she adds with a laugh, referring to how she was tempted into the project.
An animal lover, Dame Judi reveals her family were adamant she’d come home with a tortoise in tow. “And I said: ‘No I won’t, because a tortoise won’t come running towards you when you get in the door’, but I did get quite fond of Alfie.”
While the actress didn’t take a tortoise home with her, she did take up the offer of one of Mrs Silver’s fabulous outfits, a white flowery dress. “I said: ‘Of course I’ll wear it’. Now I look at it in my wardrobe and think, ‘When am I ever going to wear it?’”
The story was adapted by Richard Curtis, along with his Vicar of Dibley co-writer Paul Mayhew-Archer. Curtis, who penned Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually, has talked about the fulfilment of writing a love story about an older couple.
Dench, who turned 80 earlier this month, believes age is but a number, “something that’s imposed on you”.
“You’re only as old as you feel and it makes me go absolutely spare when people go: ‘Are you going to retire?’ I don’t want to be told I’m too old for something, I want to try it first.”
And the actress, who was widowed in 2001, shows no signs of slowing down. She had wrapped on the movie sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel before Esio Trot, and followed that with the movie Tulip Fever and TV series The Hollow Crown. “Take them when they’re offered, I say,” she quips.
Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, January 1, BBC1, 6.30pm