Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Harry Gilby, Craig Roberts, Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney, Adam Bregman, Albie Marber, Ty Tennant, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi, Laura Donnelly
Writers: David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford
Director: Dome Karukoski
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Release Date: May 10, 2019
On a number of occasions in TOLKIEN, characters get excited about words. Not words put together into stories or poems (although there’s enthusiasm for that as well), but how sounds fit together, and where they came from, and how they might be put together into new languages. These are conversations that a lot of the audience would love to have, and will relish hearing. After all, most of those who want to see a biopic about the early life of influential fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien (of LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT fame) are likely to be interested in words as well. Tolkien was famous for inventing a number of languages, some of which he included in his books. According to the film, it was this passion that allowed Tolkien to continue his studies when funding ran out.
The Tolkien estate has distanced itself from the film TOLKIEN, so it’s hard to know how much is factual and how much is dramatic license. Here, we see “Ronald” Tolkien (played as a boy by Harry Gilby and as a young man by Nicholas Hoult) and his younger brother Hilary (Guillermo Bedward as a boy, James MacCallum when older) sponsored by Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney) after the death of their mother (Laura Donnelly). Mabel Tolkien was poor, but a glorious teller of myths and stories, something that Ronald cherishes. After Father Francis finds the boys lodging with a respectable landlady, Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris), Ronald is enrolled in a good prep school. There, following an unsurprising rough start, he becomes part of an inseparable quartet: besides Tolkien, there’s poet Geoffrey Bache Smith (Adam Bregman as a boy, Anthony Boyle as a young man), musically gifted Robert Gilson (Albie Marber as a boy, Patrick Gibson as a young man), and headmaster’s son Christopher Wiseman (Ty Tennant as a boy, Tom Glynn-Carney as a young man).
Scripted by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford and directed by Dome Karukoski, TOLKIEN moves back and forth in its hero’s early life, from childhood through college through the Battle of the Somme in WWI. Visuals make a strong case that what Tolkien saw and experienced during this last shaped his ideas about Mordor later. It’s a little disjointed, but this approach actually keeps everything flowing along fairly briskly. Karukoski has a gentle way of creating shapes and using college to suggest Tolkien’s inspirations throughout. Nothing is a pure apparition, but rather the sort of things we might envision if we were sitting in the same place as Tolkien was and squinted a bit.
At the same time, there’s a delight in language and words and concepts. Even Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), the young woman who enthralls Tolkien, is intellectually engaging. The dialogue scenes are a lot of fun, especially when Derek Jacobi appears.
Hoult conveys sensitivity and intelligence as Tolkien, and Boyle is notable for conveying a great deal of emotion and information that goes well beyond what he has to say.
TOLKIEN by no means breaks the biopic mold, but it is inviting, well-paced and uncommonly thoughtful.
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Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Movie Review: TOLKEIN