Review: ‘Tolkien’ Starring Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins

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“Since childhood I have been fascinated with language. I’ve invented my own,” says John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) to Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), the young woman he’s hopelessly in love with in the biographical drama, Tolkien.

The film explores the early years of famous author J.R.R. Tolkien, beginning with the future novelist orphaned after the untimely death of his mother and becoming a ward of the Catholic Church. Father Francis (Colm Meaney) becomes his guardian and is in charge of his education.

While trying to fit in at school Tolkien becomes friends with three young lads: Robert Gilson, Christopher Wiseman, and Geoffrey Smith. It’s not long before the four kids become inseparable, more than friends and more like brothers.

As Tolkien enters his teenage years, he falls deeply in love with a young orphan lady named Edith Bratt. The two have known each other and been friends since they were children. Together, they sneak out to dine at a fancy tea room. They also attempt to see an opera since Edith is a big fan. Their relationship distracts Tolkien from his studies, affecting his grades and displeasing Father Francis. Concerned Tolkien might fail academically, Father Francis tells the 16-year-old boy he can’t see Edith anymore. If he still loves her when he turns 21, he can seek her hand then.

It’s while Tolkien’s at Oxford that WWI begins. Tolkien, along with his three friends who call themselves the fellowship, sign up and head to the front to serve their country. Tolkien experiences first-hand the horrors of war on the battleground which threatens to tear the fellowship he has with George, Christopher, and Robert apart and end any chance of him being with the love of his life, Edith.

All these early experiences and relationships would inspire Tolkien to write his iconic fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tolkien stars Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins

Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins in ‘Tolkien’ (Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

With beautiful cinematography, strong performances, and a sweet and romantic love story at its heart, Tolkien is an insightful and moving film about a man who uses the tragedies and triumphs in his life to create a fantastical and magical world of adventure and heroics.

Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins are perfectly cast as J.R.R. Tolkien and Edith Bratt, two young, talented, artistic dreamers who can’t help but fall for each other and inspire one another to follow their dreams. The scenes with Hoult and Collins are tender, poetic, and full of underlying passion. The charming romance is one of the best – and most emotional – elements of the film.

Director Dome Karukoski leaps back and forth in time between the brutality and carnage of the war at the front to Tolkien’s days as a school boy and teenager with a smoothness and direct sense of purpose in his style of filmmaking. The horrors of war and the scenes of death all around are powerful, shocking, and raw.

Tolkien is a well-written, superbly acted and crafted film that’s a worthy tribute to the famous author who created some of the most beloved characters and thrilling adventures in fantasy literature.

GRADE: B

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of war violence

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

Release Date: May 10, 2019




Kevin Finnerty

Professional film critic since 2003 and a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society. Host of “The Movie Guys” radio film review show from 2007 through 2013. Film and television critic for Showbizjunkies.com and a movie buff since 1973.
Kevin Finnerty
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