Tolkien (2019)

Director: Dome Karukoski
Writer: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney, Craig Roberts, Harry Gilby, Albie Marber, Ty Tennant, Adam Bregman, Mimi Keene, Colm Meaney, Laura Donnelly, Derek Jacobi
Seen on: 15.7.2019

John R. R. Tolkien (Harry Gilby) grows up poor and his mother (Laura Donnelly) dies early, so he and his brother get placed into foster care by Father Francis (Colm Meaney). They end up with a rich older woman who also fosters Edith (Mimi Keene) and John and Edith become good friends. The foster place also gives John the chance to attend a prestigious school where he shows great promise and becomes fast friends with Robert (Albie Marber), Christopher (Ty Tennant) and Geoffrey (Adam Bregman). Even after they grow up and attend different universities, John (Nicholas Hoult) remains friends with them (Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney). But World War I changes their plans.

Tolkien suffers from a very, very bad script that gives us no real insight into who Tolkien may have been, or even tells its story in a competent manner.

The film poster showing J. R. R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult). Superimposed over his chest are two warriors fighting on horseback.

The trouble with the script starts right off the bat: the framing narrative just doesn’t work here. Soldier Tolkien making his way through the trenches, looking for Geoffrey or Geoffrey’s body, with a young soldier (Craig Roberts) in tow, makes little sense as a frame and doesn’t work emotionally because the audience doesn’t get to meet Geoffrey until about half an hour later.

And even then, after we meet Geoffrey, the film fails to establish a real emotional connection. It makes way too many and too big jumps in its narration that we really get to know the characters (in fact, I kept confusing the boys with each other) and then their friendship just seems to end? Peter out? Fade to nothingness? And then we’re suddenly supposed to care again.

J. R. R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) talking to Edith (Lily Colins)

The frequent jumps in time upset the general emotional balance of the film, but with the boys it’s particularly obvious. Since they are supposed to be the emotional grounding material for the film, it is in deep trouble indeed. And that is not even considering that the film really buys way too much into the myth of genius.

The result is a film that offers little insight into Tolkien as a human, or as a writer, or as a thinker and becomes mostly exhausting. What a wasted chance!

Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) with his friends (Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney).

Summarizing: leave it be.

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