In the array of biographical films telling the lives of some of our most iconic figures, author J. R. R. Tolkien finds his way onto the big screen.
Tolkien, directed by Dome Karukoski, is a biographical film based on the early life of the world-renowned author J. R. R. Tolkien and the relationships and events that shaped him. What begins as a perilous trek through the Somme trenches, soon becomes a back-and-forth narrative between Tolkien’s (Nicholas Hoult) young adult life and his experience through World War I—focusing on events that would later become inspiration for The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and The Silmarillion.
After the death of his mother in 1904, guardianship of Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary (James McCallum), was handed to Father Francis (Colm Meaney), where they were sent to be raised in a boarding house. It is here that Tolkien meets Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), who would later become his wife. While this relationship serves as a catalyst for many of the emotional exchanges in the film, the story’s primary focus is the brotherhood shared between Tolkien and his friends; Rob Gilson (Patrick Gibson), Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Geoffrey Smith (Anthony Boyle), all of which are aspiring artists, poets and musicians, forming the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS).
The execution of their performance was fun to watch. The chemistry between the actors solidifying the boys’ interactions left audience members laughing at their recklessness and snide remarks, their bickering of endearment and mischievous actions. This brotherhood provides an insight to the youthfulness of Tolkien, the aspirations and dreams shared between friends––artists of another kind––each struggling to make an impact despite expectations. It is with the news of war that one assumes these moments may be fleeting.
With music by Thomas Newman, the soundtrack to the film ties in wonderfully with Tolkien’s curiosity. The tracks remain light and playful with ‘The TCBS’, while sometimes drifting into darker themes with tracks such as ‘Army of the Dead’.
The score, taking the American composer a year to complete overall research and composition, is comparable to other fantasy works but still has its own enchanting touch. While Newman is most commonly known for his scores in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Skyfall (2012), this soundtrack was very reminiscent of Harry Gregson-Williams’, The Chronicles of Narnia, with its bright strings of short and repetitive phrases, and the earthy, whimsical wind section. While it is far from the iconic tunes of Howard Shore’s LOTR, it enforces a youthfulness that is rather suiting to the story being told, creating an atmosphere that demonstrates both an innocent curiosity and the horrors of war.
While at times the movie felt too on-the-nose of pointing out ‘inspiration’ that led to the creation of his iconic series, there were some sweet CGI parallels which referenced LOTR, shifting reality into fantasy. For those seeking a more documentary style of film, these effects may come across as unnecessary, yet as an average viewer, I found it was these moments that brought a sense of magic to the mundane.
Tolkien is very much a story about the wonders of the world, the magic wrapped around language, and the power art has over people. For those looking for a little more magic in their life, Tolkien is sure to satisfy.
Experience a world before Middle-Earth when Tolkien arrives in cinemas tomorrow!