Film review: Tolkien
The film follows the childhood and young adult life of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit author, John ‘Ronald’ Tolkien, as he finds inspiration for his fantasy series through war, death, love and – most importantly – fellowship.
Tolkien opens on an English countryside reminiscent of a scene from The Shire in Middle Earth, a green valley where Hobbits live – the main characters of Tolkien’s fantasies. Tolkien, played by Nicholas Hoult, wrote that they may be small in stature but large in spirit. While he was never small in stature, he did find himself alone after the death of his parents during his childhood. This part of his life was glossed over in the movie – it was only after his mother’s death that viewers realised she had been sick with diabetes for much of her life – a warning that many phases of his life would be rushed in the film.
After their death, Tolkien was sent to an all-boys institution and boarding house on Duchess Road, Edgbaston. As a precocious child, he had several run-ins with the boys that would later become his best friends and members of the Tea Club, Barrovian Society (TCBS).
Beginning as tormentors, Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle), Robert Gilson (Patrick Gibson) and Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney) quickly take Tolkien in and form the TCBS with a pledge to change the world through their art. Their brotherhood was exactly that and it was refreshing to see young men come together and simply be friends with no aggression or hyper-masculinity. They cared for each other unselfishly, which is an important narrative for today’s world.
He also met his childhood sweetheart and fellow orphan – Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) – at the Duchess Road boarding house. After the war, Tolkien and Edith married and had four children – two of whom are still alive today. Lily Collins and Nicholas Hoult work well together, but it is strange to think of the intelligent and quick-witted character portrayed in the film inspiring the LOTR and Silmarillion characters of Arwen and Lúthien, who notably have no lines in the books.
Tolkien’s time during the war is equally moving but for a very different reason. The fevered dreams in no-man’s land which birthed LOTR characters like the Witch King and Sauron are haunting and emotional. However, for someone who experienced the trauma and brutality of WWI – Geoffrey and Robert were killed, and Christopher was left “shell-shocked” – it seems strange that he would write fiction that glorified war and violence.
Creative license was obviously taken with the character of Geoffrey Bache Smith – the implication that he was in love with Tolkien is creating a narrative for a man who doesn’t have a say. It’s also interesting to note that the Tolkien family wanted nothing to do with the movie. They don’t agree with commercialising Tolkien’s memory and tightly control his legacy.
Tolkien is visually beautiful with quintessentially English scenes of moss-covered buildings, autumn leaves and intricate Victorian architecture. The film and its characters are compelling, the plot easy to understand for viewers unfamiliar with Tolkien’s work and enough Middle Earth references to keep his fans happy.
Final Verdict: 3/5 stars.
Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, Tom Glynn-Carney and Genevieve O’Reilly.
If you liked the movie, try:
The Theory of Everything, Atonement, The Imitation Game, Becoming Jane, Darkest Hour, The Crown and Finding Neverland.