Biography Drama

Review: ‘Tolkien’ is a Love Letter to the Man, the Myth and the Legend

May 9, 2019Ferdosa Abdi

A sumptuous and endearing period drama about how one of the greatest authors in history came to write one of literature's greatest works, Tolkien may not be as adventurous or epic as J.R.R. Tolkien's famous stories, but it has every bit as much heart as its namesake's work.

As a biography based on John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's youth, his experiences growing up, and the people who inspired his writing, the story and its validity can be disputed. However, as a piece of entertainment, what director Dome Karukoski and writers David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford have crafted is a sweet love letter to Tolkien and all that he created.

The film creates an idealized image of what Tolkien was like and his life journey to become the writer he is revered for being today, and there is no doubt that great care was taken to pay respect to the man and the people who encouraged him. In fact, Tolkien is very much similar to another movie that followed a famous author coming into his own, Goodbye Christopher Robin, which told the story of how A. A. Milne came to write Winnie the Pooh with his young son. And in terms of authors who act as passive observers of their surroundings, family and acquaintances, both films share many similarities, with the pieces of what will become their literary masterpieces slowly coming together for them, sometimes via rather heavy-handed dialogue.

The comparisons continue when one considers the roles played by the key women in these men's lives. Tolkien's great love, Edith Bratt, is played beautifully by Lily Collins, who does a lot to create a fully formed character, adding many dimensions to Edith with a mere look. Some work is also done with the writing to create an understanding that Edith is more than a muse for Tolkien, but she still isn't given the screen time to fully flesh out her portrayal.

It goes without saying that Nicholas Hoult, who could have done this role in his sleep, is excellent. Hoult believably plays a young man who is enamored with words and is destined for greatness, and he shares the screen with an ensemble of great actors who all serve their purpose in playing individuals who will inevitably be inspirations for various characters in the Lord of the Rings universe. There is even a character named Sam, who possesses all of the qualities one expects from the literary Samwise, and fans of Tolkien will certainly be tickled by all the nods to what's to come from the author's writing.

Hoult and Collins are a delight together, and they do a lot to give warmth and character to their otherwise stiff roles. But ultimately, Tolkien does not serve up any surprises or challenge what we might already know about the great writer. That said, this is a movie that knows what it sets out to do, and it does what it does well.

Tolkien releases May 10th, 2019 from Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for some sequences of war violence. Its runtime is 1 hr. 52 min.

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