Before I walked in to see Tolkien, I didn’t know much about J. R. R. Tolkien. I knew what books he wrote, and that he was in a writer’s club with C. S. Lewis, and that he and his wife had a beautiful – almost mythic- romance. Two out of three of those facts appear in the film, so I didn’t feel too shabby. But what Tolkien shows you is that there is so much more to the story – as always – of the world-famous writer. It’s a beautifully made film, full of joy and sorrow – sorrow tipping the scales slightly – with a fantastic ensemble cast. The cinematography of the film is beautiful, as are the costumes. It’s a really lovely period film. I’m still at war with myself however, as to how much I enjoyed the pacing and plot. It felt almost a little too slow at times, though by the midpoint of the film, it had certainly hit some kind of a stride. The emotional moments of the film slightly missed the mark at times for me. I also didn’t like that it wasn’t a fully linear structure, there were far too many flashbacks and flashforwards.
The crux of the film plot lies in Tolkien’s transition from youth to young man, and as such our story is driven by three things: his relationship with his three friends, his relationship with Edith, and his love of language. These remain a focus throughout the film, and in some scenes wonderfully combine. I really enjoyed the scenes between Edith (played by Lily Collins) and John (Nicholas Hoult), as their relationship is charming and sweet. I really enjoyed their portrayal of the couple. I wasn’t as much a fan of the school pals. I didn’t find the school scenes particularly engaging either but I enjoyed their older counterparts, especially the older Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle), who I thought really stood out in comparison to the other two friends (who kind of faded to the background for much of the film).
However, there’s a rather odd tone to the film, where throughout there are suggestions from where Tolkien got his ‘inspiration’ for the Lord of the Rings series, along with a rather tongue in cheek reference to ‘influence vs taking’ but I wondered several times at the film’s determination to relate his war experience to his famous book series. I think the over emphasis on the effect of the war on him is definitely why the estate doesn’t like it, considering Tolkien’s own feelings on allegory. I think the film would have improved from less overt references to the books as it jars with the viewer for most of the film, especially at the beginning. It’s a pity that the film had so much potential and yet was unable to follow through.
I’ll tell you one thing that’s stayed with me though – I now actually know what the J. R. R. stands for in his name.
Directed by: Dome Karukosi Starring: Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins Running time: 111 minutes
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