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Tolkien (12A)

Director Dome Karukoski Starring Nicholas Hoult - Lily Collins - Colm Meaney - Derek Jacobi Walt Disney Studios 2019 111 minutes

As a big Tolkien fan; I was keen to see this film, though some mixed reviews raised a few question marks in my mind. In the end, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. 

Was I delighted or disappointed? I guess it was somewhere in between. There were elements of this Hollywood biopic that were twee and predictable. The tiny smog-engulfed house in industrial Birmingham was nothing like the smart house owned by Tolkien’s grandparents, nor the semi-rural cottage on the edge of Birmingham, where they later settled. There is also a little bit of Disney’s romantic polish on the way that Tolkien came to marry Edith.

Perhaps the most obvious problem with the film is the almost total absence of any reference to Tolkien’s Christian faith. This could be contrasted with a brilliant recent re-staging of the play Shadowlands at Chichester Theatre, in which the faith (with all its doubts and questions) of Tolkien’s friend CS Lewis, played by the splendid Hugh Bonneville, is placed upfront and central to the whole story.

The story in the film is largely an accurate picture of Tolkien’s young life, which a brilliantly vibrant group of actors brings to life, but the silence concerning his faith is probably inexcusable.

Yet the ingredients of the film, with its celebration of trees and friendship and stories, the dark backdrop of industrial Birmingham, the loss of Tolkien’s parents and friends, and the horrors of the First World War, all create a world which shaped the imagination that created Middle Earth, and the brilliant books The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

That Tolkien could survive and flourish as a human being and an author is testament to a hope that could only be created by a “fellowship” that is greater and more enduring than any human friendship.

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex

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