Starring Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Derek Jacobi, Craig Roberts, Patrick Gibson, Colm Meaney
For "The Lord of the Rings" fans, Dome Karukoski’s "Tolkien" might work as a way of celebrating the brilliant author and fantasy creator in which popular franchises "Harry Potter" and "Game of Thrones" have both been inspired from. The script assumes the audience's familiarity with ‘Rings,’ expecting you to pick up on which people and moments in the life of J.R.R. Tolkien's inspired the characters found in his books and in Peter Jackson’s award-winning trilogy. If you are unfamiliar with his stories, "Tolkien" might seem like an overbearing biopic with a nice little love story. The performances from Hoult and Collins are admirable. The film struggles in the edit to find the most concise way to cover all the ground necessary to get us to the big moment where he begins writing about Middle Earth.
His childhood was anything but ideal, Ronald Tolkien (Hoult) grew up without a father, and after his mother died he and his younger brother become the foster children of Father Francis Morgan (Meaney). Education was always important to Mrs. Tolkien and the imagination Ronald has is in part due to his mother’s vivid stories. Oxford is where Tolkien began to flourish, thanks in part to three fellow students who create a pact to always champion each other's artistic abilities. Ronald would meet the love of his life at his foster home, Edith Bratt (Collins), who changed his life forever. Like the rest of his peers, Tolkien enlists when war breaks out. Like so many that survived, the war would forever shape his world view and greatly influence the future stories he would write.
The script, understanding most people’s familiarity with ‘Rings’, expects you to pick up on which characters and moments are inspiring those found in the books and Peter Jackson’s award winning trilogy.
For those of us who spent hours diving into the special features in the extended editions of "The Lord of the Rings" back in the early 2000s, we know Tolkien always resisted suggestions that his Middle Earth work was allegory. "Tolkien" embraces that notion completely and seeks to highlight the people in Tolkien’s life that inspired characters like Bilbo (his guardian, the priest), Sam (his comrade on the battlefield also named Sam) or his Oxford friends that represent Hobbits. On a date where Tolkien and Bratt discuss “Cellar Door” seems to be the origin for Lothlorien. These moments, including a joke about Wagner taking 6 hours to tell a story about a magic ring, are scattered throughout. The script certainly hits a high note when veteran Derek Jacobi makes a brief appearance as the language professor that changes Tolkien’s educational direction. The script hints that Jacobi's character was the inspiration for Gandalf.
Rarely does an ending justify a problematic film's trek, but "Tolkien" ends on a really touching note. For those with the ability to pick out what the parts of the script that were inspirations for Middle Earth will be more apt to tolerate some of the film's slower more tedious moments. As the film cuts between the war (mostly Tolkien in a trench reminiscing while his comrades battle overhead) and his childhood, it’s difficult for the viewer to find stable ground in which to grow with the characters. The script does tap into the more emotional side of men which you rarely see in biopics or romance films and that’s to be admired. However, the film's greatest accomplishment is that it erases the simplistic portrait of the old professor who created "Lord of the Rings," expands our insight about the difficulties he endured during his early years.
Will provoke a stronger reaction from Lord of the Rings fans than the average viewer.