Dir: Dome Karukoski
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Pam Ferris, Derek Jacobi
This technically unofficial biopic of John Ronald Reuel (who knee that third one) Tolkien, does a solid job of thematically mirroring the core themes of the author’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, in the way it moves from the Shire-like country idyll of Tolkien’s childhood, to the harsh industrial environs of Birmingham to the brutal landscape of the Somme, which serves as the wraparound narrative locale for this tale, as the war-damaged author-in-waiting searches the trenches for a childhood friend.
The film is also strong on echoing elements of the writer’s work, where friendships become “Fellowships”, where rings are invoked, and languages invented as prelude to the work to come. These elements run the gamut from well-judged and intriguing to heavy handed and somewhat annoying. Much like the film itself, which feels at times like a warm, sincere look at Tolkien’s life, and in other moments like an opportunistic exploitation of the LOTR connection.
That said it is buoyed by two very decent central performances from Hoult, and, especially, Collins, and it does have a strong sense of place and environs, capturing both the dreaming spires of Oxford, and the sheer horrors of the Somme to equal and powerful effect.
But ultimately it feels lacking. Yes, it is obviously only the beginning of Tolkien’s many tales, but it feels a little light in terms of conveying the man’s burgeoning genius. The far superior Shadowlands looked at the life of his contemporary and friend C.S. Lewis from the point of view of a much older man. Perhaps that was the wiser way to approach such a subject.