My first rule regarding biographical films like the new Tolkien movie, which dramatizes the life of author J.R.R. Tolkien, is to ask myself if the story would hold up and still be entertaining if I’d never heard anything about the character(s) before. In this case, the film meets that criterion quite well.
In case you’ve been living in a hole in the ground the past 80 years, J.R.R. Tolkien is the renowned author of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again and The Lord of the Rings. Through his books and the films based off of them, Tolkien is an author who has truly achieved legendary status in popular culture.
The film walks backward in Tolkien’s childhood and young adult life before he became an acclaimed writer of fantasy fiction, with emphasis on his friendships with what would become known as the Tea Club and Barrovian Society and how those close friendships would eventually influence his work.
The Tolkien film narrative bounces between his orphaned childhood drama and scenes showing the young man deathly ill with Trench Fever and desperately trying to locate a friend during World War I’s Battle of the Somme. The filmmakers take liberties with visions the author may have seen that would later inspire some of the calamities in his Middle-earth books.
But Tolkien is at its best when it tells the love story between the young man and the woman who would become his wife, Edith Bratt. Their romance is touching and believably portrayed by actors Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins. Of the films multi-layered themes, it is the love story that works the best and is the reason to see this movie.
Helmed by Finnish director Dome Karukoski Tolkien is not a perfect movie and it does not have the blessing of the Tolkien estate, for what that’s worth — but it is still very entertaining and it is a heartwarming period romance that is definitely worthy of a nerdy date night.
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