We all know the story of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but in Tolkien, we finally get to see the story of the writer himself unfold on the big screen. Directed by Dome Karukoski and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, the biographical drama film stars Nicholas Hoult as J.R.R. Tolkien and follows the orphaned author through his early life from youth to adulthood. We follow Hoult’s character as he befriends a group of fellow artists and writers at his school. In his newfound fellowship he finds companionship, courage and inspiration.
Experiencing friendship, love, war and loss, the film does its best to showcase Tolkien’s artistic inspirations visually by showing dragons, knights, fire and all of the wonderful and intimidating things that we recall from the Middle Earth that we know of so well, which is cleverly laced into and derived from Tolkien’s reality. We also witness Tolkien find love in Lily Collins’ character, Edith Bratt who lives with Tolkien and is a fellow orphan. Despite Tolkien’s obvious love interest, their relationship is its own venture.
Nicholas Hoult is wonderful as language and literally loving young J.R.R. Tolkien. Affectionately known as John by his friends, John is the only one among his fellowship who isn’t from a rich family and must rely on a scholarship for his education and the charity of others by the request of his guardian, Father Francis played by Colm Meaney who has been in charge of John and his brother after their mother’s untimely death. I love how Hoult plays Tolkien as smart, pure, aware of his surroundings but at the same time in his own world.
The chemistry between Tolkien and his friends is an obvious source inspiration to the brotherhood of men we have come to know and love from Tolkien’s stories, but I never thought to see a new perspective nor understand his characters relationships (particularly Frodo and Sam from his works) until I saw on-screen the relationship between J.R.R. Tolkien and his beloved friend and talented poet Geoffrey Bache Smith played by Anthony Boyle. With Hoult and Boyle’s characters, there is a love there, far stronger than friendship. Yes, this gay romance is subtle, evident and both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.
While with very little screen time, I adored Derek Jacobi in his role as Professor Wright and his effortless display on how important this professor was to Tolkien’s life with his passion and encouragement. Watching the film, I only wish I too had a passionate teacher in the way that Jacobi played.
My only criticism is that I felt the story was going too slow and with the score also being slow at certain points of the film, it was hard not to see the narrative losing some momentum. Despite this criticism, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Thomas Newman’s score is somewhat nostalgic and hauntingly beautiful.
In truth, Tolkien is not for everyone. But I would highly recommend it for those who love J.R.R. Tolkien as an author, those who have read his books and for hardcore Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans. Although I have not read Lord of the Rings, I have read The Hobbit and enjoyed this film immensely. Not only was I moved to tears at the end, but it really ignited my desire for creative writing again, something that I haven’t done in years. And maybe after writing this, I shall try. Thank-you, J.R.R. Tolkien.