The story of Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis’s late love and bereavement, recorded by Lewis in A Grief Observed, is best known to many of his fans from the 1993 Richard Attenborough film Shadowlands starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. The first film version of this story, however, was the acclaimed 1985 BBC “Shadowlands” written and directed by Norman Stone.
More than twenty years later, Stone returns to the life of C. S. Lewis with “C. S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia,” a 54-minute biographical docudrama of sorts produced by Faith & Values Media. Starring Anton Rodgers as an avuncular Lewis at home in Oxford in 1963, the year that he died, the short film cuts between Lewis’s running commentary on the events of his life and flashback dramatizations of those events.
Although much of the narration is excerpted directly from Lewis’s own autobiographical writings, notably Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed, the screenplay by Stone includes original lines that come jarringly from Lewis for anyone familiar with his work.
Authentic lines like “Passionate grief does not link us with the dead — it cuts us off from them” exist side by side with bogus platitudes like “I always believed that miracles can happen — you just have to be in the right place at the right time. They occur most often, perhaps, in the imagination of a child…”
Such sentimentalism is hardly characteristic of the rigorous mind that produced Miracles, Lewis’s apologetic for the supernatural breaking into the natural world. Nor is it true, of course, that Lewis always believed in miracles; the unfolding drama proceeds to show us the young Lewis losing his faith after a miracle failed to avert his mother’s death.
In spite of such lapses, “C. S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia” is a reasonably well-done if somewhat superficial overview of major landmarks in Lewis’s life, from his idyllic early childhood to his miserable stint at boarding school, his intellectual awakening under the “Great Knock,” his spiritual reawakening in part through the influence of J. R. R. Tolkien, and finally the “shadowlands” story of late love lost.
Perhaps due to the influence of the recent film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Beyond Narnia” is at pains to draw out any parallels or precedents for the Narnia stories in Lewis’s life. In reality Lewis downplayed any similarity between the imaginary worlds of his childhood, Animal-Land and Boxen, and his later fairy-land of Narnia, but the connection is too good for Stone to pass up. More relevantly, fans of the Narnia stories unfamiliar with Lewis’s life may be interested to learn that during the Nazi blitzes he took in four London children at the Kilns, just as his Professor Kirke does in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.