Tolkien, rated PG-13
Tolkien looks at the formative years of the beloved author J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit). I thoroughly enjoyed this well-made film. It is directed by Finland director Dome Karukoski, in his first English language film, and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford (Pride). Of note, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a statement about the film indicating that they wanted to make clear that they did not approve of, authorize, or participate in the making of the film, and do not endorse the film or its content in any way.
The film opens in 1916 on the battlefield in World War I, during the Battle of the Somme in France. John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien, played by Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite, About a Boy, X-Men films), has come down with a case of trench fever. The rest of the movie is told in flashbacks, with it occasionally coming back to the war, with Tolkien trying to find his friend Geoffrey Smith, played by Anthony Boyle.
The film then takes us to the beautiful country land of Sarehole Mill, where the Tolkien family lives. The younger J.R.R. Tolkien is played by Harry Gilby, his mother Mabel is played by Laura Donnelly (Outlander), and his young brother Hillary is played by Guillermo Bedward (Rocketman). The boy’s father has died, and the family needs to move from the ideal Sarehole Mill to the dark, dirty and industrial Birmingham.
We see Mabel homeschool the boys, telling them stories and teaching them languages. J.R.R. begins to sketch characters that will later appear in his writings. But then Mabel dies when J.R.R. is only 12 years old. The orphaned boys are then looked after by the kind priest Father Francis, played by Golden Globe nominee Colm Meaney (The Snapper), and eventually wind up at a boarding home in Birmingham with a middle-aged Catholic woman Mrs. Faulkner, played by Pam Ferris (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Call the Midwife).
We see J.R.R. and three school mates form an art club, meeting regularly at a local tea room and forming the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, or TCBS for short. This fellowship and brotherhood would be key to Tolkien’s life.
Tolkien meets another orphan at Mrs. Faulkner’s boarding house named Edith Bratt (younger Edith played by Mimi Keene, and older Edith played by Golden Globe nominee Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply). Edith is three years older than Tolkien and plays the piano for Mrs. Faulkner. The film shows us their growing love through their courtship, including a three-year break, and then Tolkien’s leaving for the war.
The film shows Tolkien’s growth at Oxford University under Professor Wright, played by Golden Globe nominee Derek Jacobi (The Tenth Man). Wright is impressed by Tolkien, who not only speaks a number of languages, but has invented his own language and written poetry in his own language. The film explores Tolkien’s love for language and poetry.
The film was beautifully shot, and features excellent sets, including the transformation of Oxford back to 1914 and the beginning of World War I. The acting was good, especially that of Nicholas Hoult in the lead role as J.R.R. Tolkien. I enjoyed the references to people, characters and places that would later show up in Tolkien’s writings.
Themes in the film are friendship, family, language, war and romance. Content concerns include disturbing scenes of war. Christians will be particularly disappointed that almost all of Tolkien’s Catholic faith is removed from the film. But this wonderful film showcases Christian character – faithfulness, courage, longsuffering, and what being a good friend really means. It also shows the importance of having mentors and a teachable spirit.
Tolkien is a well-made and acted film about the beloved author J.R.R. Tolkien. The film goes up to the point when Tolkien is writing his 1937 book The Hobbit.