Directed by Dome Karukoski
Written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi
The year was 2001. I had gone back to Wisconsin to visit family for the Christmas holiday after having moved to Arizona. The hottest films during that week leading into Christmas were the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake and a small, little film you might remember called “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.” My uncle and I went to the movies and we had to decide between the two films.
Of course, I’d seen “Ocean’s Eleven” before getting to Wisconsin, so the only choice was to see “Lord of the Rings” yet something about the film was, instinctually, rubbing me the wrong way.
I relented of course, and what unfolded in front of me was something magical. It made the bond between my uncle and me very special.
That same bond is the fundamental underpinning of the eponymous character in Dome Karukoski’s (“Tom of Finland”) “Tolkien,” which opens in theaters this weekend. Nicholas Hoult plays J. R. R. Tolkien. The film centers, not on his destitution but on his survival. It uses his time during World War I as a focal point in his journey.
Karukoski is known for his documentary-style filmmaking which has won him a number of awards. Much like “Tom of Finland,” David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford’s script moves the story along through the use of flashbacks to his childhood we are introduced to what made Tolkien tick. Much of his history is full of transition as his family, destitute following his father’s unexpected death from rheumatic fever, seeks the Church’s help with the kind father, Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney) is there to support them.
The young Tolkien (Harry Gilby) does not want to leave his home, and reluctantly does so, the first of many traumas in his life. Father Morgan is there as a literal father figure to he and his brother, Hilary.
Against the odds, Tolkien finds love. He does not immediately pursue Edith Bratt (Lily Collins, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”), but he does eventually court her. His awkwardness attracts the attention of Christopher Wiseman (Ty Tennant/Tom Glynn-Carney), Geoffrey Bache Smith (Adam Bregman/Anthony Boyle) and Robert Gilson (Albie Marber/Patrick Gibson).
Together, they were unstoppable, creating a “fellowship” from which they fed off of one another’s boundless energy. I found it stimulating to see a group of individuals form such a tight bond where they could learn and grow from each other’s experiences and wisdom. That is until World War I threatens to break up the “fellowship.” The story uses the trauma of the war and its aftermath to really help drive Tolkien’s desire to create a lush world, full of not only richly developed characters, but also a language that was as unique as the world he was creating.
The story focuses on the relationship between Tolkien and Edith, using sacrifice to define their ultimate relationship. The story also focuses, specifically on Christopher and Geoffrey. Christopher reminds Tolkien to pursue his passions while getting him into trouble. Geoffrey has the heart of a poet, and there’s an unspoken depth of feeling between Geoffrey and Tolkien that I found touching.
Some may find the pacing of the film to be slow, however this is to the film’s advantage as it explores not only the life of the author of our favorite fictional works, but also the inspiration behind those characters. The multi-layered story is full of rich characters, a solid bond between those characters and a friendship . . . . a fellowship . . . that has endured long after Tolkien passed.
Which is the same way I feel about my experience seeing “The Fellowship of the Ring” in 2001. Sadly, my uncle passed not long after we saw the film together. It’s a memory that continues to endure in me and “Tolkien” inspires me to be a better me.
3.25 out of 4 stars