With a lot of the great artist, you can look into their lives and find a key moment or time in their lives that greatly affected them and can be found throughout their work. H.P. Lovecraft’s father was put in a mental asylum, Akira Kurosawa was witness to the mass of dead bodies in the Great Kanto Earthquake, and Alfred Hitchcock was traumatised at a young age when his mother told a policeman to put him in a jail cell for an afternoon.
Not all artists need an origin story like this but many do have a key incident in their lives that can be found within their work. Tolkien tells the story of the man that would reshape the Fantasy genre and make one of the biggest impacts on literature and what events shaped him to be able to write them.
An important element that should be talked about with any bio picture, do you need to know about the person or their work before going in? I believe if the movie is of any true merit then no, you shouldn’t have to be in the know before entering the movie theatre, a movie should be able to stand on its own without homework beforehand. That said, the people that do know about the person’s life and work will probably find themselves more at home and able to fill in the blanks and connect when certain words are said. But a good bio should please the fans and be just as engaging for someone who knows nothing about it (and if it really does its job, it’ll turn them into fans).
Opening the movie is our main character in one of the worst places during one of the worst times, the trenches during the First World War. We see him in the midst of a fever while bombs are going off, bullets are flying and muds splattering around him, but he tells his ward that he needs to get closer to the action to find his friend, he needs to make sure he’s alright. We then are taken back, to when the man was a boy and enjoyed time in the forest playing with his brother, reading and making up stories.
Due to the death of their mother, they are sent to a special school because of the benefit of a patron. While there young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is clearly greatly intelligent, well versed in literature and very comfortable with a book in front of him (as well as able to speak Latin and other languages). While at this school he gathers three friends, Geoffery (Anthony Boyle), Robert (Patrick Gibson) and Christopher (Tom Glyn-Carney). Together they form a friendship built on the appreciation of the arts and dedicate themselves to changing the world through art, each with their respective field, literature, music, poem, painting, and music.
Nicholas Holt himself is responsible for bringing this wonderful portrayal to life, the script gives him plenty to sink his teeth into but a good script can only help an actor so much. Holt is able to hone in on the characters passion for words and language and the way he observes beauty in the world and is entranced by it but is also compelled to tell stories that make the character come alive. There’s also some joking around and tender emotional moments in there for texture than make it a fully realised performance of a character.
if you know Tolkeins work or have at least
seen The Lord of The Rings movies then you can probably grasp those
stories are about humble people that start off in a simple place and
enjoy the simple things. Then some great evil comes to threaten
everything and they are thrown into a world of looming evil, of fire and
mud. This contrast is present here in the movie, from a rich world of
cake, tea, and art to a shaking unstable landscape that seems to have
abandoned hope and civilization. What Tolkein and this movie does is take the two and link them for we understand the scale that humanity is capable of.
An element that would usually be the weakest element of another movie is the romance part of the narrative. Tolkien had a wife that he spent his life with and I’m sure it was a perfectly happy marriage. But with these movies, it seems like they need to throw that in there to make sure the movie checks all the boxes. Action? Check! Drama? Check! Song? Check! Romance? Check! But there is one here and it flourishes! It’s a wonderful layering in the movie, the character and enjoyable experience in its own right. This works because a) the characters were written with things in common and b) the actors themselves (Lily Collins) have chemistry together so they elevate the material of the script to something that you engage with. Furthermore, this is not a standard fairy-tale told on tracks, these people have similar interests as well as disagree and have arguments, like real people. Do I see it as being tagged on later in development? Yes, but they also made it work.
Biopics are in no short supply these days but few of them really know what story they are telling, just a collage of events from the subjects life stitched together and we are pushed through it. This movie knows what it wants to say “Where did this great writer who changed a genre get his inspiration?” We learn and understand the man and are moved by it. This is a movie that looks on a mans life and knows where to focus itself.