I cried so much in Tolkien that I gave myself a headache and had to go straight home to put myself to bed.
Did I go into this movie expecting to sob like an overtired child? No.
Did I half expect this biopic to just be a two-hour long montage of Nicholas Hoult moodily scribbling away at a large oak desk and periodically throwing scrunched up paper into a bin? Maybe…
Am I glad that director Dome Karukoski exceeded my (rather low) expectations? Yes. Tolkien is definitely worth a watch – and there is barely a montage in sight!
Tolkien documents the time before J.R.R. wrote his epic legendarium which would inevitably enter a collective worldwide consciousness for decades to come. The film focuses on a young Tolkien (Hoult), just as he is coming into his own – mastering languages, creating his own, developing friendships (or should I say fellowships), falling in love and finding his place in the world.
Tolkien is clever in that it deviates from a traditional linear narrative. It’s not a case of a + b + c = best fantasy tale ever written. The plot is less direct than this, allowing us to gradually piece together the story of how Middle Earth came into fruition.
We are first introduced to a feverish, hallucinating Tolkien stumbling his way through the trenches of World War I. Here the CGI team should be commended – every bomb flash is the fiery breath of a dragon and each waft of toxic gas morphs into the dreaded Fell Riders. It’s quite breathtaking to see this familiar cinematic landscape transformed by the power of imagination.
While we return to Hoult shivering in the mud throughout the film, the bulk of the film focuses on Tolkien’s younger years. After his mother dies, he and his brother are lodged by the benevolent Mrs Faulkner (Pam Ferris), who sends them to an exclusive school. Here Tolkien meets and develops important friendships with other boys just as invested in the arts as himself. He also develops feelings for Edith (Lily Collins), fellow orphan and beneficiary of Mrs Faulkner’s philanthropic tendencies.
It is these relationships between young people which will tug at your heartstrings and tickle your tear ducts. Understanding how ‘Lord of the Rings’ is as much an ode to these young idealistic men as it is a piece of fiction is quite a humbling experience and definitely feels like a privilege.
Tolkien is a polished production with quality period styling. Historians and sticklers for pure fact may get up in arms about creative liberties taken by Karukoski, but Tolkien is a fanciful, enjoyable film well worth the trip to the cinema. And who knows, you may feel inspired to binge watch all three The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003) films afterwards.
Lily Collins once auditioned for the role of Tauriel that went to actress Evangeline Lilly in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films.