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Saturday, 14 December 2019
HE may have written some of the world’s most beloved and enduring fantasy novels, but JRR Tolkien’s own story was almost as gripping as his fiction.
Etching the formative years of the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, Finnish director Dome Karukoski’s film is anything but the average literary biopic.
Built around delicate, affecting performances by Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins, it fills in the little-known details of the writer’s early life, but with the big emotions and imagination that course through Tolkien’s work.
The story opens in the mud and rain of the First World War, with Tolkien (Hoult), suffering from trench fever and deciding to go on a mission to find his old friend Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle) in the heat of battle, to deliver a letter from Bache Smith’s mother.
The action then pivots back to Tolkien’s tough early years, losing his own mother, moving to an orphanage run by the imposing Mrs Faulkner (Pam Ferris), and finding new friends with a group of gifted pupils at the King Edward’s School in Birmingham. Played by a raft of up and coming UK talent the boys meet regularly at the Barrow Stores to drink tea and talk art, styling themselves the TCBS (Tea Club, Barrovian Society).
These scenes, which depict young men as they grasp life and push each other to create, recall the joie de vivre and love of culture in Dead Poets Society. Most importantly, it is Tolkien’s first experience of a fellowship.
Yet into this all-male environment comes a strong, opinionated, passionate woman. Edith Bratt (Collins) had grown up with Tolkien at Mrs Faulkner’s, and the pair’s relationship is a love-at-first-sight story.
Hoult and Collins movingly portray a couple whose connection is built on a love of storytelling, a sense of play (on their first date they drop sugar lumps on the hats of passers-by), and a feeling of being outsiders in a cold, repressed world.
Hoult pulls off being both a charming romantic lead and a believable academic, driven by intellectual pursuits. He is well matched by Collins, who lends verve and colour to what could otherwise have been a one-dimensional “muse” role.
For hardcore Tolkien fans, the film is peppered with subtle nods and winks to his Middle-earth legacy.
For the rest of us, Tolkien is the story behind one of the greatest stories ever told, filled with love, friendship, loyalty, creativity, books. In other words, the good stuff.
The film is showing at the Regal Picturehouse cinema from today (Friday).
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