This review comes in two parts.

First a video. Zan Campbell and Paul Radford recorded their discussion as they drive to see a screening of TOLKIEN in Asheville, NC. 

Next, enjoy Zan’s written response to seeing the movie.

Review by Zan Campbell

For any true Tolkien fan the upcoming Tolkien movie is a matter of both great anticipation and great trepidation. When we are talking about the life of a man who has impacted millions – if not tens of millions – of people with his stories and his love for language and beauty, the stakes are high to get it right.

I’ll begin by saying that I think this film is a must-see for any Tolkien fan. Indeed, the more you know about Tolkien and his life story, my guess is the more you will enjoy it. There are lots of little hidden gems that are really precious for those who know his tale. That being said,  newcomers may not find the film that entertaining. I would definitely not rank it among be great biographical films of our era, nor indeed among really excellent films. While the film is full of really sweet moments and very delightful imagery, it struggles to find a narrative and the one that it does settle on – the fellowship among Tolkien’s friends of the TCBS – is not as powerful as perhaps it could have been. The film feels more like a very well produced first episode of a Netflix series such as The Crown than a truly completed biography.

The film’s main focus is on the early part of Tolkien’s life and the formative years in which he began to develop his love for language, interest in storytelling, and his love for his wife-to-be, Edith. The overarching narrative involves his relationship with his dear friends and fellow classmates from school in Birmingham, then follows them into collegiate life at Oxford and Cambridge. While the costume design and location shooting are incredible, it seems more like jumping from delightful little vignette to vignette rather than a narrative that really draws you in to the story. The film flashes back and forth between Tolkien’s experiences in the trenches in World War I in his formative years. While this is a very common storytelling device, I think it distracts in some ways from the story they are trying to tell. All that being said, the great fear when watching the biographical film of any of your heroes is that the truth of the life will be lost in a Hollywood desire for drama. In this case I think while the facts may have been adjusted for storytelling purposes, the truth of Tolkien’s life is presented well. His journey to love language and myth are well presented, as well as his strong friendships with both fellow students and teachers. Tolkien himself emphasized the importance of what he called “true myth”. Claiming that a story did not have to be factual to be true. In his case, I think he would approve.

In this case I think while the facts may have been adjusted for storytelling purposes, the truth of Tolkien’s life is presented well.

I do think a major element left out of the story was Tolkien’s Catholic faith. Any biographer will tell you this was not only a key aspect to his intellectual and artistic development, but also to his life and interactions with friends and family. Leaving out this large aspect of his life is akin to telling Martin Luther King Jr’s story, but forgetting to mention that he was African-American. While still an inspiring story, it lacks a bit of the fundamental motivation both drove Tolkien, and helped him to endure the trials he faced.

I also think the story ended too early. The last ten minutes of the film rush through decades to catch you up and get you to where he pens the first words of The Hobbit. But his relationship with the Inklings, his marriage to Edith and his time as a Professor are all important factors in making him the man that could craft the Middle~Earth sagas. As I said before, this film feels a bit incomplete.

A scene where Tolkien and Edith are in the forest and she is dancing reminds the viewer of the story of Beren and Lúthien as told in the Silmarillion.

All this is not to say the film is not worth seeing. There were several moments that delighted me, both visually and emotionally. A scene where Tolkien and Edith are in the forest and she is dancing reminds the viewer of the story of Beren and Lúthien as told in the Silmarillion. Much like Beren, Tolkien sees his love as the image of feminine beauty dancing in the golden afternoon sunlight. The closeup shot shows her as he sees her, while a wide shot shows nothing more than a girl skipping about in the forest. Not an ugly sight, but definitely not a woman filled with grace and beauty as Tolkien sees her. I think this is a great insight and demonstration of the real human love that Tolkien and Edith shared. Love covers a multitude of flaws, and I think the filmmakers did an excellent job representing how Tolkien saw his wife. Indeed the whole film could be said to be about love. Love of Edith, love for comrades and love of language. Many films over sexualize or over dramatize love. But in the film the romantic interactions between Tolkien and Edith feel very real. From the movement of their hands to the looks in their eyes, you get the sense that this is a real human love story. Likewise, the fellowship between Tolkien and his friends feels very genuine. Kudos to the cast for the chemistry they developed in order to portray the brotherhood so well.

For me personally this move struck home. The story of a man seeking beauty, love and joy in a world full of sorrow and trials is very real. His simple love towards others, passion for his craft and desire to use his skills to change the world are very relatable. The film is a good reminder that you do not need to be wealthy, strong or especially brave to be a blessing and a source of joy to others.

This review comes in two parts.

First a video. Zan Campbell and Paul Radford recorded their discussion as they drive to see a screening of TOLKIEN in Asheville, NC. 

Next, enjoy Zan’s written response to seeing the movie.

Review by Zan Campbell

For any true Tolkien fan the upcoming Tolkien movie is a matter of both great anticipation and great trepidation. When we are talking about the life of a man who has impacted millions – if not tens of millions – of people with his stories and his love for language and beauty, the stakes are high to get it right.

I’ll begin by saying that I think this film is a must-see for any Tolkien fan. Indeed, the more you know about Tolkien and his life story, my guess is the more you will enjoy it. There are lots of little hidden gems that are really precious for those who know his tale. That being said,  newcomers may not find the film that entertaining. I would definitely not rank it among be great biographical films of our era, nor indeed among really excellent films. While the film is full of really sweet moments and very delightful imagery, it struggles to find a narrative and the one that it does settle on – the fellowship among Tolkien’s friends of the TCBS – is not as powerful as perhaps it could have been. The film feels more like a very well produced first episode of a Netflix series such as The Crown than a truly completed biography.

For me personally this move struck home. The story of a man seeking beauty, love and joy in a world full of sorrow and trials is very real. His simple love towards others, passion for his craft and desire to use his skills to change the world are very relatable. The film is a good reminder that you do not need to be wealthy, strong or especially brave to be a blessing and a source of joy to others.