25 September 2023


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Reviewed by Victor Rebikoff.

Director: Dome Karukoski, Fox Searchlight Pictures, M 112 Minutes.

This fascinating biopic on the formative years of famous British author J.R.R. Tolkien from Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski reveals the more important events and relationships that inspired him to write his series of fantasy stories beginning with The Hobbit.

The opening scenes show Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult –‘X Men’ franchise) in the midst of a harrowing experience during the Battle of the Somme in WW1 and in a delirious state as his mind flashes back to his difficult childhood.

The sudden death of his mother Mabel makes Tolkien and his brother Hilary orphans and under the care of their guardian Father Francis (Colm Meaney –‘The Journey’) a Catholic priest who places both boys into a boarding house.

On getting into the exclusive King Edward’s school, Tolkien is subsequently befriended by budding artists Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle – ‘Onus’), Christopher (Tom Glyn-Carney – ‘Dunkirk’) and Robert (Patrick Gibson – ‘Gold’) with Geoffrey interested in becoming a poet, Christopher a composer and Robert a painter.

Besides forming a fellowship with his new-found friends, Tolkien is soon attracted to boarding house lodger Edith Bratt (lily Collins – ‘Love Rosie’) a fellow orphan and fan of famed German composer Wagner, before the story switches back to the war.

It is on the Somme battlefield where Tolkien actually experiences his baptism of fire in addition to visualising the vast range of fictional characters that would feature prominently in his future fantasy tales.

Despite the slow-paced storyline and set against a drama-filled WW1 backdrop, Karukoski has painted an enjoyable insight into the early life of the accomplished writer highlighting Tolkien’s struggle as an orphan before being acclaimed one of the world’s great storytellers.

‘Tolkien’ is a story that had to be told, most notably of a legendary author whose imagination had no bounds having been inspired by the bonds of fellowship forged in war and the enduring love of his wife Edith.

The major highlight in Karukoski’s casting has been the convincing performances of Hoult and Collins as Tolkien and Edith which are complemented by some realistic settings for the dramatic wartime scenes including those of Victorian England.

One of the main disappointments in this biopic is that it did not delve further into Tolkien’s later life where he achieved worldwide acknowledgement as an academic and a literary giant.

Vic’s Verdict: 3 ½ Stars

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