TOLKIEN – movie review

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dome Karukoski
Screenwriter: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Cast: Lily Collins, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Gibson, Pam Ferris, Genevieve O’Reilly, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 4/10/19
Opens: May 10, 2019

Tolkien Movie Poster

The biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien is as dull and stodgy as the title of the film. The Finnish-born, Dome Karukoski, whose“Tom of Finland,” about the artist Touko Valio Laaksonen, projects the director’s interest in biopics, this time deals with Tolkien’s youth from the time he was about twelve (played by Harry Gilby) through his experience in World War One, marriage and fatherhood. Tolkien could have been one of the those writers whose parents typically advise “continue with pen and paper as a hobby if you like, but be sure to have a career to earn a living.” But we know little of his parents’ wishes as his father had died in South Africa, his mother of diabetes, making the lad an orphan who is lucky to come under the wing of Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney). From Father Morgan’s strict management of his charge, Tolkien winds up under the wing of a rich woman, Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris), his studies bringing him up to entrance to Oxford University.

Much is made of the influence of young Tolkien by friends of his own age who form a brotherhood, horsing around, teasing one another, and helping to mold the young man into a scholar whose interest in philology, the study of language, brings him into the world of Europe’s most celebrated linguist and writer (Derek Jacobi). Scenes of his years in high school, where male students wear jacket, vest and tie to classes, alternate with cuts from World War One, where we find Tokien submerged in a trench as was the custom of the time, until the unit is ordered on what looks like a suicidal charge of the German lines reminiscent of a similar devastation in the Battle of Gallipoli. Central to his life is his courtship of Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), the on-again, off-again woman who will become his wife and give him four children. Bratt plays her part wonderfully, flirtatious at first, showing her increasing enthusiasm of her bond with Tolkien, a woman who Father Morgan tries to drive away from Tolkien because she is “not Catholic,” and might prevent his success at Oxford.

As you already know, Tolkien’s first published work, “The Hobbit” in 1937, brought the author fame and elevates him to perhaps the world’s foremost scribe of mythological subjects. If you have seen “The Hobbit” and Peter Jackson’s 2001 hit “Lord of the Rings” which won a boatload of Oscars and critics’ awards, you might expect the film “Tolkien” to throw in scenes—not necessarily from the movies, but at least of some of the dramatic personae of the man’s creations. Yet we see a fire-eating dragon just twice, and for a scant few seconds, and some vague scenes of warriors on horseback. Without the special effects that would have brought the audience the full measure of the man, “Tolkien” becomes a biopic that’s stodgy, lacking in imagination and the creativity that could have come with an array of visual effects.

112 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – B-
Overall – C+