Richard Bellis

Tolkien: a second opinion

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I’m a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I have marathoned the films and attempted the books. So, when I went into the film, I was worried that there was a lot at stake here: Tolkien and his works are highly regarded, so this biopic has to deal with it well, unless it wants an angry mob of Middle-Earthers.

As it was, I enjoyed the film.  I can understand why some people don’t but for me this is a nice film about Tolkien’s life before he wrote The Hobbit.

Nicholas Hoult puts in a good performance as J.R.R Tolkien. I know some people think his character is a little boring but I think its more likely to be that his character his shy.

This shyness seems due to the tragedy in his life with his father dying and having to move into houses supported by the Catholic church, his mother dying of a short and sudden illness and him going to a posh school where he didn’t quite fit in. This is where he meets the ‘fellowship’, an unlikely bunch with different talents, working together in life.

Lily Collins puts in a great performance as Edith Bratt, Tolkien’s wife. The chemistry with the two is great. It is Edith who takes an interest in Tolkien’s language and ideas, becoming the driving force for him to get his ideas out of his head and onto paper.

We see how he struggled at Oxford at first, almost losing his scholarship as he didn’t seem interested in the course. This was because he thought he was on the wrong course, just like many students to this day.  He wanted to be on a languages degree instead of the classics and ultimately proves himself to be a passionate student.

One of the reasons I can see why people don’t like this film is because of the direction and editing. The film constantly cuts between Tolkien in the first world war and flashbacks to his past and how he got there. I can see what they were trying to do: it seemed every traumatic experience he witnessed in the war brought on a flashback to something in his youth.

By far the best scenes in the film were the First World War scenes and how they influenced Tolkien to create the stories. A great example was when he woke up to see a dragon (presumably Smaug from The Hobbit) breathing fire, only to realise it was a German flame trooper igniting the British trench. Elsewhere, the explosions on the battlefield turn into the Balrog, and we what I think are the Ring Wraiths slaying British soldiers.

I think it ends in a brilliant way, with Tolkien writing the first lines of The Hobbit: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a…’ Seeing him pause before finishing the sentence was a great touch.

There are references that went over my head, like his language, and all things Silmarillion, but I don’t think it takes away from the viewing experience (it does help to be in the know, though).

The soundtrack is good but it was a shame there was no Howard Shore score in the film, that would have made Middle Earth come alive, just as it did in Lord of the Rings.

All in all, this film is a great biopic and it should be watched by every Tolkien enthusiast.