The challenge Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies faced was grounding a mythic story in relatable characters. The challenge Dome Karukoski’s Tolkien faces is exactly the opposite — breathing and little myth and magic into the ordinary story of a gifted orphan.
Tolkien, produced by Fox Searchlight and directed by Dome Karukoski, is a gentle and warm ode to the man behind the magic of Middle-Earth. Nicholas Hoult plays the eponymous J.R.R. Tolkien while Lily Collins plays opposite as Edith Bratt, Tolkien’s plucky wife. Hoult and Collins have an undeniable chemistry that is a delight to watch onscreen. And both shine in their respective roles.
Check out the trailer for Tolkien below:
However, don’t expect Tolkien to be a thrilling epic. It is the story of a gifted young man who has a knack for language and the powerful friendships that define his life. The challenge Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies faced was grounding a mythic story in relatable characters. The challenge Karukoski’s Tolkien faces is exactly the opposite — breathing a little myth and magic into the ordinary story of a gifted orphan.
Karukoski does this by centering the film on fellowship. What might be a little on the nose for some filmgoers, I think is a heartfelt connection to Tolkien’s work. Early in the film, Tolkien befriends a group of boys who share the common interest of art, poetry, and language. They form the TCBS, the Tea Club, Barrovian Society. The film builds its heart on the found-family nature of the TCBS.
There’s genuineness in the TSBS boys relationships with each other that is striking. Maybe it’s because the world today is so cynical and homophobic, but Tolkien and his friends have true affection for each other. The mutual encouragement and self-bettering competition between them are touching to watch on screen.
That the inspiring friendship of four hobbits was in part inspired by this formative brotherhood is obvious. On that note, there are a handful of knowing nods to Tolkien’s future work. Trench-fever induced nightmares drawing imagery of dragons, wraiths, and balrogs haunt Tolkien’s race through the Somme Offensive. While Tolkien’s own drawings and elvish notes become the backdrop for numerous scenes.
Is it worth the trip to the theater?
Admittedly, Tolkien does feel like butter scraped over too much bread. It tries to do too much with its run time and sometimes is a little unfocused. It might be worth saying that the film has two hearts, one centered on Tolkien’s relationships with the TCBS and the other in his romance with Edith. Both are necessary and a joy to watch. While they don’t work against each other, the two threads don’t play into each other quite as well as you’d hope. However, this is a small critique of a highly enjoyable film.
Tolkien is marvelously acted and makes you want to re-read (not watch) anything Tolkien ever put his pen to. Karukoski weaves an intriguing and inspiring tale while leaving you biting at the chomp to learn more about this impressive human. Tolkien comes out this Friday and is a nice emotional comedown from the Endgame hype.
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