Shadowlands (1993 film)

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Shadowlands ver2.jpg
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Attenborough
Screenplay byWilliam Nicholson
Based onShadowlands
by William Nicholson
Produced byRichard Attenborough
Brian Eastman
CinematographyRoger Pratt
Edited byLesley Walker
Music byGeorge Fenton
Price Entertainment
Spelling Films International
Distributed byUnited International Pictures
Release date
  • 25 December 1993 (1993-12-25)
Running time
131 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$22 million
Box office$52 million[1]

Shadowlands is a 1993 British biographical drama film about the relationship between academic C. S. Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) and Jewish American poet Joy Davidman (played by Debra Winger), her death from cancer, and how this challenged his Christianity. It was directed by Richard Attenborough with a screenplay by William Nicholson based on his 1985 television film and 1989 stage play of the same name. The 1985 script began life as I Call It Joy written for Thames Television by Brian Sibley and Norman Stone. Sibley later wrote the book, Shadowlands: The True Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. The film won the 1993 BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film. The film marked the last film appearance of English actor Michael Denison.


In the 1950s, the reserved, middle-aged bachelor C. S. Lewis is an Oxford University academic at Magdalen College and author of The Chronicles of Narnia series of children's books. He meets the married American poet Joy Davidman Gresham and her young son Douglas on their visit to England, not yet knowing the circumstances of Gresham's troubled marriage.

What begins as a formal meeting of two very different minds slowly develops into a feeling of connection and love. Lewis finds his quiet life with his brother Warnie disrupted by the outspoken Gresham, whose uninhibited behaviour sharply contrasts with the rigid sensibilities of the male-dominated university. Each provides the other with new ways of viewing the world.

When Joy is diagnosed with cancer, deeper feelings surface and the two of them marry. Lewis' beliefs are tested as his wife tries to prepare him for her death.


Critical reception[edit]

Shadowlands received positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 97% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 30 reviews, with an average rating of 8.02/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Thanks to brilliant performances from Debra Winger and especially Anthony Hopkins, Shadowlands is a deeply moving portrait of British scholar C.S. Lewis's romance with American poet Joy Gresham."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "intelligent, moving and beautifully acted."[3]

Rita Kempley of The Washington Post described it as "a high-class tear-jerker" and a "literate hankie sopper" and added, "William Nicholson's screenplay brims with substance and wit, though it's essentially a soap opera with a Rhodes scholarship . . . [Winger] and Hopkins lend great tenderness and dignity to what is really a rather corny tale of a love that was meant to be."[4]

In Variety, Emanuel Levy observed, "It's a testament to the nuanced writing of William Nicholson ... that the drama works effectively on both personal and collective levels ... Attenborough opts for modest, unobtrusive direction that serves the material and actors ... Hopkins adds another laurel to his recent achievements. As always, there's music in his speech and nothing is over-deliberate or forced about his acting ... Coming off years of desultory and unimpressive movies, Winger at last plays a role worthy of her talent."[5]

Awards and honours[edit]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards[6] Best Actress Debra Winger Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published William Nicholson Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[7] Best Film Richard Attenborough and Brian Eastman Nominated
Outstanding British Film Won
Best Direction Richard Attenborough Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Debra Winger Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay William Nicholson Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers[8] Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Roger Pratt Nominated
Heartland Film Festival Studio Crystal Heart Award Richard Attenborough Nominated
Humanitas Prize[9] Feature Film Category William Nicholson Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[10] Best Actor Anthony Hopkins (Also for The Remains of the Day) Won
Best Actress Debra Winger Runner-up
Nastro d'Argento Best Female Dubbing Emanuela Rossi (for dubbing Debra Winger) Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[11] Top Ten Films 5th Place
Best Actor Anthony Hopkins (Also for The Remains of the Day) Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards[12] Best Actor 3rd Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[13] Best Actor Runner-up
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[14] Top Ten Films 8th Place
Best Actor Anthony Hopkins (Also for The Remains of the Day) Won
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 13th Place

Year-end lists[edit]

Changes from the stage play or earlier television production[edit]

The stage play opens with Lewis giving a talk about the mystery of suffering, whereas this film intersperses a similar talk several times throughout the narrative. The television film opens with Lewis giving a radio broadcast about the sanctity of marriage.

In the stage play as in reality, Lewis and Davidman honeymoon in Greece. In the film, on their honeymoon they look for the "Golden Valley" in Herefordshire, England, as depicted in a painting hanging in Lewis' study.

As in the stage play, though not the earlier television film, Joy has only one son. In the original television film, as in reality, Joy had two sons, Douglas and David.


  1. ^ "Top 100 grossers worldwide, '93-94". Variety. 17 October 1994. p. M-56.
  2. ^ "Shadowlands (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (7 January 1994). "Shadowlands". Chicago Sun-Times.
  4. ^ "Shadowlands (PG)". The Washington Post. 7 January 1994.
  5. ^ Weissberg, Jay (2 December 1993). "Review: Shadowlands". Variety.
  6. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  7. ^ "Film in 1994". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  8. ^ "Best Cinematography in Feature Film" (PDF). Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Past Winners & Nominees". Humanitas Prize. Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  10. ^ "The 19th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  11. ^ "1993 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  12. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. 19 December 2009. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  13. ^ "1993 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  14. ^ "1993 SEFA Awards". Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  15. ^ Berardinelli, James (2 January 1995). "Rewinding 1994 -- The Year in Film". ReelViews. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  16. ^ Meyer, George (30 December 1994). "The Year of the Middling Movie". The Ledger. p. 6TO.
  17. ^ Craft, Dan (30 December 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.

External links[edit]