Dome Karukoski’s biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien brings to life the origins of the author’s career, charting the course of a life taken over by imaginary worlds. Shivering in the trenches, a young Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) has visions of terrifying monsters and shadowy creatures looming above fields of carnage. His story is told in a typical biopic structure, through highlights cherry-picked from Tolkien’s biography. Although the pacing is too rushed at times, the chosen scenarios generally feel uncontrived. From a childhood in the lush countryside to being orphaned in Birmingham and finding friendship among other literary-minded boys, Tolkien’s life seems to fit a romantic tale of fellowship snugly. A few liberties taken with the narrative are obvious, but it has a general air of believability to it, which is necessary to contrast with the occasional dragon appearance.
Lasse Frank Johannessen’s cinematography is beautiful from the off, showing green English countryside and the burning trenches of the Somme with equal intensity. The look is suited to the magical undertones of the author’s writing: Tolkien embraces a tone apt to depict the life of an individual obsessed by legends and fantasy stories. Hoult is charming as the protagonist and the rest of the cast are good, with no standout performances. The script is where things start to wobble; by turns predictable, saccharine and too modern, the dialogue does its best to detract from an otherwise engaging story. Moments of delight and silliness manage to keep things entertaining, alongside fast-paced editing and an effectively sparing use of special effects, which are exciting without becoming absurd.
Tolkien is a pleasant watch. Its earnestness might not be to all tastes, but perhaps that is a reasonable reflection of Middle Earth: a serious world in which romance and friendship are all that is left to believe in.
CAST: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi
DIRECTOR: Dome Karukoski
WRITERS: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
SYNOPSIS: Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school.