Tolkien (2019), directed by Dome Karukoski, is a period drama that dramatizes the early life of J.R.R. Tolkien to the moment he begins to pick up the pen and write the celebrated fantasy novel, The Hobbit. Tolkien is a compelling story, beautifully shot and edited, and superbly acted by a wonderful cast of actors that give it a depth and richness.
The film is set against one of the World’s darkness periods, World War I, and follows a non-linear narrative of Tolkien’s life moving from his military service on the front lines in France to flashbacks of his early life and his impecunious circumstances to his schooling at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. When at school, Tolkien reluctantly befriends some snobbish boys and is pleasantly surprised by the outcome. The friendship of the four boys grows by leaps and bounds, and they go on to form a semi-secret society which they call the T.C.B.S. The teen actors are phenomenal in the film and make the film with their superb acting. They are wonderful to watch and the film beautifully captures the camaraderie, the banter, the sense of humour, and fellowship they share. The camaraderie continues and follows them into adulthood which is a running motif in the narrative of the film. Their unwavering commitment and allegiance to one another is deeply moving and it draws you into the narrative of the film and the world of Tolkien. The film begins with a delirious and weakened Tolkien suffering from trench fever who is desperately looking to find his friend Geoffrey on the front lines during the battle of The Somme, in France during the first World War.
The film is situated within a historical context juxtaposing Tolkien’s reality and his fantasy life and his experiences which have an influence on his fantasy writing. Some of the most disturbing scenes in the film are the scenes of the re-enactments of war which reminded me of the folly and futility of war. One of the saddest scenes is seeing a young Tolkien discover his mother has just passed away. Some of the most tender scenes include his relationship with Edith Bratt, and his meeting with Geoffrey’s mother at the Tea Shop to discuss the publication of Geoffrey’s poems. The film will tug at your emotions so, be prepared and bring some tissue with you.
The director has woven together many visual elements to make a remarkable film that celebrates the author. The film’s imagery not only captivates but stretches the imagination and references the imagery found in the fantasy writing of the author. The juxtaposition of the real and surreal is visually stunning. The film is not all dark and somber but has many comedic moments which provide cathartic release against the misery and drama of his life.
Tolkien is a film that awes and inspires, and which beautifully depicts the humanity and brilliance of the author. It is a wonderful film that is made up of a stellar cast where each of the main characters shine and show us their acting chops. It features Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, and Derek Jacobi.
It’s a must see for anyone who is a fan of his writing or anyone who loves period pieces, or biopics or dramas but it’s a film for anyone really since it’s beautifully crafted, shot and edited and it has so much to offer the viewer. There are many reasons to appreciate this film not only for its meaningful story line and insight into one of the most celebrated fantasy writers of all time. If you are a fan of the handsome Nicholas Hoult, then you’ll enjoy him in his performance of Tolkien. I found it a poignant film that speaks to the heart and celebrates the bonds of brotherhood that transcend classism and the dimension of time.
FOX Searchlight releases Tolkien across Canada on Friday, May 10