This is a rather quiet, moving film describing how young love, friendship and war transformed a man into one of the great authors in world history.
To begin with, this film attracted me because I have always been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. It began when I read the Lord of the Rings when confined to bed with mononucleosis that I developed working for a bricklayer at a summer job during my college years. On top of that, I can say without apology that Director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings saga remains my epic experience in a movie theatre.
Tolkien is a biographical movie of the author’s early years that inspired him to achieve literary greatness. Let me warn you that the despite the fact that the film fascinated me from beginning to end, that clearly was not the case with several other people in the theatre who left quickly as the closing credits began.
The film covers three areas of Tolkien’s early life. As it flashes back and forth, you watch him wrestle with the effects of the death of his mother that left him an orphan. You then watch Tolkien balance his growing relationship with the beautiful and engaging Edith Bratt (Lilly Collins) with a deep friendship with four other college students. Thereafter, their lives collapsed in turmoil as WWI began and he was left near death in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme.
It was quickly evident that Tolkien and Ms. Bratt were deeply in love, but a problem developed when Father Francis (Colm Meaney), Tolkien’s Catholic guardian, forbade him to have any personal relationships with a female until he turned 21. This drove the couple apart, and both fought to find a bridge back to each other.
Let me say here that Nicholas Hoult and Lilly Collins are quietly splendid in their respective roles. Mr. Hoult has proven to be an immensely talented actor as seen by his roles as the blonde member of parliament in last year’s The Favourite, his performance as J.D. Salinger in the overlooked Rebel in the Rye, his tremendous performance as Nux in the powerful Mad Max: Fury Road and Warm Bodies to name just a few of his films. And as she proved as Ted Bundy’s loving girlfriend in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Ms. Collins has artistic talent that will certainly grace us on the screen in the future.
However, I found the great strength of this film to center on Tolkien’s relationship with three friends, Rob Gilson (Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey Smith (Anthony Boyle) and Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney), who met while students at King Edward’s School in London in 1911. The boys formed a secret society that they called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society where they pursued their dedication to drinking tea while discussing a dedication to lead valuable lives. This was interrupted by WWI, and those that survived were left in different worlds.
All of the above clearly inspired Tolkien in writing his novels centering on The Shire in The Lord of the Rings. The friendship of Frodo and Samwise Gamgee was similar to Tolkien’s college days with his buddies and fire breathing dragons resembled cannons shooting flames into the trenches of WWI.
How ironic that a war that killed millions of Europe’s young men provided inspiration to one who survived.