This is the opening sentence to J.R.R. Tolkien’s first book The Hobbit, which helped propel his career as one of the most influential authors in recent history. The magical world of Middle Earth did not end there, but it was with The Hobbit that it merely began. It paved the way for Tolkien’s crowning achievement: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. His work was eventually adapted for the screen by Peter Jackson and resulted in some of the highest grossing and most groundbreaking fantasy films of all time. Now with director Dome Karukoski’s film Tolkien, we get a cinematic glimpse into the life of the man behind so many iconic creations.
Tolkien tells the story of J.R.R. Tolkien in his formative years, growing up and receiving an education in England. The movie interweaves two integral parts of Tolkien’s life: his years in school and his time in the British Army during World War I. The movie alternates between these two narratives, and focuses primarily on the author’s relationship with three of his best friends, and Edith Bratt, a girl from Tolkien’s childhood whom he grows to develop feelings for.
The best word I could use to describe this movie is: pleasant. The endearing performances of the film’s leads, coupled with the historical backdrop of early 1900s England, helped make Tolkien an easy viewing experience. Nicholas Hoult plays the titular role of J.R.R. Tolkien and does so with a subtle charm, while Edith Bratt is played by Lily Collins, and we are once again reminded of her future film potential.
Although I can confidently say I enjoyed Tolkien, it is not without its faults. The movie is not a deep character study that examines Tolkien and who he was in his own complexity. Instead, it is a biopic that merely scratches the surface of one of the most brilliant authors of the 20th century. It addresses his childhood as an orphan, his school-friends who inspired his work, and also his longtime love and future wife. What the movie fails to do is go beyond this simple retelling of his life. While I understand it is not easy to tell the story of someone who crafted so many magnificent stories himself, it appeared that the movie seemed to only play upon the appeal of the late and great author and add nothing more to the mix.
Despite the lack of depth I hoped for, I still appreciated the inclusion of Tolkien’s real-life inspiration for his writing. The viewer is treated to seeing his interest in fantasy, story-telling, and language skills grow throughout the movie, which ultimately builds up to his writing of The Hobbit. The film acknowledges Tolkien’s admirers and caters specifically to an audience who cherishes the work of the author in a fairly obvious way.
Tolkien is by no means a revolutionary entry to the biopic genre and the many films that have preceded it. However, what I found was the movie’s best parts seemed to lie in its simplicity. The film does not demand much from its audience, which makes for both an easy watch and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. For any fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, it is sure to bring a smile to your face, and hopefully, for those unfamiliar with his work, act as a lovely nudge into the incredible world that he created.
Cover Photo: IMDB