In the new aptly titled biographical film about Tolkien's life, those later years are ignored in favour of an exploration of his youth. With a somewhat frustrating narrative trope we are introduced to Tolkien in the midst of battle, when he served his country in the First World War, and from this moment the story ebbs and flows between timelines, recalling his childhood through to his adolescence, and chronicling his hardships and achievements.
Nicholas Hoult stars as Tolkien, giving a serviceable turn. With a handsome, stammering demeanour reminiscent of a young Hugh Grant, he gives as best a performance as the material allows. His physical attributes remain stagnant, however, throughout the course of the story, with very little dramatical arc between his youthful exuberance and his war-burdened adulthood. I would attribute this to the strongly marketed script, and wouldn't cast any fault towards him.
Lily Collins plays his childhood sweetheart, turned wife, and continues her upward trajectory with a sweet performance. She is quite lovely in the film and portrays her character of Edith Pratt as a level-headed, strong willed woman. I am not familiar with her place in Tolkien's story, but will assume that her role has been retrofitted to suit the current sociopolitical climate, which is fine. Derek Jacobi appears as Joseph Wright, a notable professor and linguist who was instrumental in Tolkien's development of new languages. He is quite good despite being underutilised. Other players include Colm Meaney and Pam Ferris, who help gloss the veneer of integrity.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Tolkien's family have not endorsed the film, and have – in fact - publicly distanced themselves from it. And while the film does celebrate Tolkien's work, it does so simplistically, in a contrived manner at odds with his own storytelling style. The on-screen narrative never reaches the point of The Hobbit's publication, however it does fabricate the evolution of Tolkien's process. Heavy-handed fantasy sequences during battle and bloodshed inform his creation, with German flame throwers being fantasised as fire-breathing dragons, and the over-looming theme of war itself being epitomised as Sauron (depicted as a giant shape overseeing all conflict). Scenes from his childhood reflect beloved moments from his books, such as a young Tolkien hiding from bullies beneath a raised pathway. These unsubtle moments may provide a fan service to some, but degrade the overall weight of the film significantly. There is even a moment when a character refers to Wagner's Das Rheingold (a famous opera, which inspired Lord of the Rings) by saying that it shouldn't take six hours to tell the story of a ring. It's a cringe-worthy moment that reminds us why Tolkien's family are not amused.
Average movie-goers may take a shining to TOLKIEN, and yet it's unlikely to endure a theatrical release beyond a week or two. It provides enough Middle Earth references to appease fans of Peter Jackson's films, but will likely irritate those adherent to the literature with its shallow depiction of his life, and an overall lack of exposition. Had it explored Tolkien's later years, including the publication of books, his appointment of the Order of the British Empire, and of course his tenure with The Inklings (as previously depicted from CS Lewis's perspective in Richard Attenborough's Shadowlands). As it stands TOLKIEN is a passable, albeit forgettable bio-pic that panders to short attention spans and illiterate minds (for lack of better word).