By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
The new biopic “Tolkien”
from Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski (“Tom of Finland”)
chronicles the formative years of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1892-1973), author of the critically acclaimed fantasy works “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”
However, there’s been some controversy surrounding the movie. According to a recent article in Variety Magazine,
the J.R.R. Tolkien Family and the Tolkien estate said they wished to “Make clear that they did not approve of, authorize or participate in the making” of the film. They don’t endorse it or its content in any way” the statement added.
Fox Searchlight, who produced the film, also stated in the Varity Article: “We are so proud of Dome Karukoski's film “Tolkien” which focuses on the early years of J.R.R. Tolkien's extraordinary life and does not depict subject matter from his novels. While we did not work with the Tolkien Estate on this project, the filmmaking team has the utmost respect and admiration for Mr. Tolkien and his phenomenal contribution to literature."
Here’s my take. As someone who has enjoyed Tolkien’s body of work, but didn’t know much about him, I was enlightened and captivated by this movie. I don’t know if Tolkien’s “real life” is accurately depicted on screen, or if that’s part of the reason for the swirling controversy.
I was most impressed by the performances in “Tolkien.” The South African born novelist/scholar is played earnestly by Nicholas Hoult (“The Favourite” and “Deadpool 2”).
When we first meet the young J.R.R. Tolkien (Harry Gilby, TV’s “Casualty”) he’s with his mother Mabel (Laura Donnelly, TV’s “Outlander”) and brother Hilary (Guillermo Bedward, TV’s “Home”) playing outside at their quaint village in the beautiful English Countryside.
Tolkien grew up poor.
His father died of rheumatic fever when Tolkien was just three years old. Yet, his mother instilled upon her sons the importance of an education as well as having a fun-filled imagination.
Consequently, she exposed them to literature, languages and outlandish, fun storytelling which obviously made a deep and lasting impression on Tolkien.
Yet, Tolkien and his brother’s life changed when his mother died of diabetes and they were orphaned.
Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney, TV’s “Will”) becomes their guardian and Tolkien is sent to a boarding house run by the orderly Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris, “Holmes & Watson”). The only bright spot among this devastating turn of events for Tolkien is when he meets the piano playing Edith Bratt (a nice star turn for Lily Collins, TV’s, “Les Misérables”), a very attractive fellow orphan. Tolkien soon falls madly in love with Edith. Despite objections from Father Francis, he continues to date and ultimately marries her. Edith opens his eyes to many things including Richard Wagner’s masterful “The Ring” opera.
But it was Tolkien’s attendance at the elite King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England and later at Oxford that would serve as the foundation and perhaps provide the biggest inspiration for his artistic expression. His love of language and poetry flourished. In 1909 Tolkien composed "The Book of the Foxrook,”a sixteen-page notebook, showcasing his “invented alphabet” and short stories.
While in school, Tolkien’s charming personality and intellect garnered friendship among many, but especially from wealthy students: Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle, “The Lost City of Z”), Robert Gilson (Patrick Gibson, TV’s “The OA”) and Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney, “Dunkirk”).
They became such good friends and even formed a semi-secret society—fellowship--of writers known as the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society). It’s an appropriate name since they were such big tea drinkers. Aside from the library, they hung out regularly at Barrow’s stores near the school and shared wonderful stories.
All these life experiences--including the tragedies Tolkien endured as a soldier during World War I--served as the foundation for his literary achievements.
Screenwriters David Gleeson (Upcoming, “The Grim Legacy”) and Stephen Beresford (“Pride”) rely on flashbacks to tell Tolkien’s expansive story. Most of the time this jumping back and forth style can be annoying, but here it’s done rather effectively and doesn’t affect the continuity of the film.
Overall, “Tolkien” is a touching portrait of the author and scholar who is considered one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 1530 AM and 93.1 FM.
Check Out This Trailer For "TOLKIEN"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.