“One of my strongest opinions,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in a 1971 letter, “is that investigation of an author’s biography … is an entirely vain and false approach to his works.”
While one could contest this arguably overbroad generalization, one would hope for a better exhibit to make that argument than Tolkien, a well-appointed, decorous biopic from Finnish director Dome Karukoski and writers David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford.
Tolkien is not a bad movie. Starring a quietly intense Nicholas Hoult as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and an engaging Lily Collins as Edith Bratt, the future Mrs. Tolkien, it would go nicely on a shelf somewhere between Finding Neverland and Dead Poets Society.
In this case, of course, it’s Finding Middle-earth, and Tolkien’s literary circle of friends call themselves the T.C.B.S., or “Tea Club, Barrovian Society.” In place of “Carpe diem,“ the Dead Poets’ motto, the T.C.B.S. mantra is “Helheimr!” — literally the Norse realm of the dead, but, trust me, they mean “Carpe diem.”
Drawing on events spanning 30 years of Tolkien’s life, the film focuses primarily on 12 crucial years from the sudden loss of his mother, Mabel (Laura Donnelly), in 1904 to diabetes to the 1916 Battle of the Somme in the First World War.
In a sense the Somme spans most of the film, with Tolkien’s school days and youthful romance with Edith related in a series of extended flashbacks, followed by a postwar denouement.
At the Somme, amid a hellish landscape of trenches and bodies, Lt. Tolkien searches for a fellow soldier, an old friend and fellow T.C.B.S. member named Geoffrey Smith (Anthony Boyle) whose mother back home is worried about him.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.