Movie review: Tolkien

I’m a part of a small movie club group on Facebook, we aren’t all very active, but with the amount of time on my hands I thought I'd try writing a more in-depth review of a film I went to go see a couple of days ago, Tolkien. I saw that it was getting mixed reviews and as a fan of his writing, I thought it might be interesting to learn more about the man being these epic stories, even if it is fictitious. Having read up on the movie since, it wasn't endorsed by the protective Tolkien estate, but the writers claim to have researched his story at length. Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins are both great actors, I think Lily Collins will have a great career ahead of her.

The movie is essentially a story of war and a romance between Tolkien and the love of his life, Edith Bratt. I had hoped for more inspirational and 'magic' movie moments that speak to his real life and brilliance. The movie doesn't deliver to that end, the story itself spends a great deal of time delving into a difficult childhood and the budding romance between two orphans. The former, establishes Tolkien as a exceptionally talented young man who forges a lifelong friendship with three of his peers, who form the T.C.B.S (Tea Club, Barrovian Society). Apparently this is a true part of Ronald's childhood. These relationships between classmates are well written and their personalities are bright and optimistic but suffer from being archetypal.

I found it especially strange that, as an orphan, Tolkien's story is told as though he virtually didn't have a brother (his name is Hilary). Perhaps this is intended to focus our attention on the romance or maybe to avoid a legal response from the Tolkien estate, but it was a very obvious omission. The movie breaks out at times into Tolkien's experience in WWI and in my view these scenes are often an unwelcome interruption. Here the movie seeks to emphasize Ronald's lasting ties to the T.C.B.S. while weaving in visual flourishes that we are to interpret as Tolkien's imagination at play. These scenes ultimately serve as part of the inspiration for his novels.

That aspect of the story isn't uninteresting, but it's certainly not unique. And while it was a large part of the story, it didn't draw out the desired emotional response for me, and I'm usually pretty open to it when watching movies. I think the magnifying glass was too focused on that love story, and falls short of evoking a sense of wonder or intrigue about how Tolkien's mind works. There are moments and flares that try to show what inspired his stories and there are scenes that are 'genuine' and very well acted by the two leads. The third act of the movie fell drastically late in the movie and seemed like something of an afterthought.

All that being said, I enjoyed the movie enough to recommend it (stream/rent it!) but I was let down by a partially unoriginal love story that strays too far away from Tolkien's motivation and what truly inspired some of the most successful books of our time.

Check out the trailer on YouTube here: