Tolkien – Film Review by Katie McCann
Director: Dome Karukoski
Writers: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Stars: Lily Collins, Nicholas Hoult, Laura Donnelly
JRR Tolkien is known and beloved the world over for his masterpieces The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. His contribution to the high Fantasy Genre is pretty much unparalleled and his legacy continues to grow long after his death. It was really only a matter of time before his own life got the big budget film treatment and it comes in the form of TOLKIEN.
Based on the early years of the author’s life, the story jumps between the trenches of World War One and that of Tolkien’s difficult but ultimately inspiring youth. Orphaned at a young age, an outsider in his posh boy’s school in Birmingham, TOLKIEN tries to show the audience how a boy from a tragic background (even if it is still quite privileged and posh) went on to write some of the most famous books of all time.
As with most biographical films there is a fair amount of artist licence expected. The filmmakers must push some events together or diverge slightly from fact in order to make things a little more dramatic and interesting, right? Unfortunately for TOLKIEN they have diverged a little too much from real life as the film was recently denounced by the Tolkien Estate as not at all representative of the late, great JRR Tolkien. The biggest issue the film has is how it claims that WW1 was the major influence for Lord of the Rings when on many occasions (including in the forward of the book) Tolkien himself said that it wasn’t. Yes, as a writer he was influenced by things around him, his wife Edith being referred to numerous times by him as his muse and the inspiration for Arwen for one. But where this film falls down is in how it tried to shoe horn references to his great works in places they shouldn’t be. Throughout TOLKIEN the makers are trying to transform things into what they aren’t. The biggest example is in trying to turn the battle of the Somme into Mordor with German soldiers appearing as Ringwraiths on horseback and the smoky figure of Sauron overshadowing it all.
The actors give the best performances they can throughout but even Tolkien’s group of friends (his fellowship, get it?) are all so one dimensional you feel nothing for them as they sign up to the army and head off to their inevitable end. Lilly Collins gives a fairly even and sweet representation of Edith, Tolkien’s wife, while Nicholas Holt mostly looks forlorn or ill.
Overall, the film is beautifully shot and has some charming moments around the love story of Edith and Tolkien (a love story that could have been a film in itself), but ultimately the focus of the piece is too disjointed and does nothing to honour the memory of the real life marvel that was JRR Tolkien.