Tolkien (film)

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Tolkien film promotional poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDome Karukoski
Produced by
Written by
Music byThomas Newman
CinematographyLasse Frank
Edited byHarri Ylönen
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures
Release date
  • May 3, 2019 (2019-05-03) (United Kingdom)
  • May 10, 2019 (2019-05-10) (United States)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[1]
Box office$9 million[2]

Tolkien is a 2019 American biographical drama film directed by Dome Karukoski and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford. It is about the early life of English professor J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as notable academic works. The film stars Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, and Derek Jacobi.

Tolkien was released in the United Kingdom on May 3, 2019, and in the United States on May 10, 2019, by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film received mixed reviews from critics and was a box office bomb grossing just $9 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.


As young children being raised by a single mother, J. R. R. Tolkien and his brother receive help from a local priest, Father Francis, who must relocate them from their home to small apartments in Birmingham due to financial hardships. Their mother is supportive and loving, filling their minds with stories of adventure and mystery which she recites by the fireplace at night. She becomes ill, however, and one day upon returning home from school, Tolkien finds her slumped in her chair, dead. Father Francis becomes the boys' legal guardian, and eventually finds a kindly rich woman who agrees to take them in, providing them with room and board while they continue their childhood education. There, Tolkien meets Edith Bratt, the woman's only other ward. Tolkien is taken with Edith, whose piano playing he admires, and the two become friends.

At school, Tolkien immediately shows talent with languages, earning rough treatment from a rival classmate, Robert. When the two boys get into a fight, the headmaster—Robert's father—orders that they spend all of their time together for the remainder of the term. While both initially resent the assignment, Tolkien is soon accepted into Robert's small circle of friends, and the four—J. R. R., Robert, Geoffrey, and Christopher – form a close friendship, which grows with the years, even as they attend separate universities. Meanwhile, Tolkien continues his friendship with Edith, falling in love with her. Father Francis finds out about their relationship and recognizes that it is affecting Tolkien's grades, and so forbids him from pursuing her while under his guardianship. Tolkien is distraught, not wanting to lose the priest's financial support of his schooling. He relates the conversation to Edith, promising they will be able to be together when he reaches 21, the age of majority, but she instead ends the relationship.

Tolkien struggles at Oxford, but attracts the attention of Professor Joseph Wright, a prominent philologist. Tolkien realizes language is his true passion, and enrolls in Wright's class. When the First World War breaks out, he and his friends all enlist in the British Army. Before Tolkien leaves, Edith returns and the two declare their love for each other. At the Battle of the Somme, Tolkien, suffering from trench fever, goes to look for Geoffrey, convinced that he is calling him, but is unable to find him and collapses unconscious. He wakes in a hospital weeks later with Edith by his side, to find that Geoffrey and Robert were killed; Christopher survived but was left traumatized.

Years later, Tolkien and Edith are married with several children, and Tolkien is now a professor at Oxford himself. The film ends with him inspired to write the famous opening of The Hobbit.



On November 21, 2013, it was announced that Fox Searchlight Pictures and Chernin Entertainment were developing a biographical film about the English writer, and author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien, based on a screenplay by David Gleeson.[3] Another J. R. R. Tolkien biopic, Tolkien and Lewis, was reported to be in production a year before, but did not proceed.[4] On July 24, 2017, Dome Karukoski was hired to direct the film with the screenplay from Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, which Chernin produced for Fox Searchlight to distribute.[5]

Karukoski related that he had grown up fatherless and in poverty, and that because of this, he felt, as a child, a strong connection to Tolkien, who had similar experiences.[6] Karukoski also mentioned that he had wanted to create a biopic about Tolkien since he was 12, which was when he first read Tolkien's works,[6] and that it had been a dream of his to create film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings.[7] He described the effect of Tolkien's works on him as "life-changing", saying that when he was bullied as a child, "it was like the characters became friends of mine."[6] Of the author, he said: "[w]hat struck me the most is that he lived an amazing life... this beautiful, emotional story about love and friendship. So many things about what I had read about [in] the books, occurred or were instrumental in his own life. [The Tolkien film was] a film that had to be made."[8]

On April 23, 2019, the Tolkien Estate issued a statement making it clear that the family and estate do not endorse the film or its content.[9][10]

The film touches on many themes in Tolkien's early life, including his friendships, love of languages, religion, and romance with Edith Bratt.[8]

(L:R) Director Dome Karukoski and stars Anthony Boyle, Nicholas Hoult, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Patrick Gibson promoting the film at the 2019 WonderCon.

In July 2017, Nicholas Hoult was reportedly in talks with the studio, as the frontrunner for the title role.[11] On August 30, 2017, Lily Collins was cast to co-star with Hoult, as Edith Bratt, love and later wife of Tolkien, who was also the inspiration for Lúthien in The Silmarillion.[12] Colm Meaney, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Genevieve O'Reilly joined the cast in October 2017,[13][14] and Craig Roberts was added the following month.[15] Principal photography commenced in October 2017 in the United Kingdom,[16] and concluded on December 14, 2017.[17]


Tolkien was released on May 3, 2019, in the United Kingdom[18] and on May 10, 2019 in the United States.[19]


Box office[edit]

Tolkien has grossed $4.5 million in the United States,[20] and $4.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $9 million.[2] In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Poms and The Hustle, and was projected to gross $2–4 million from 1,425 theaters in its opening weekend.[21] It ended up debuting to $2.2 million and finishing in ninth.[22]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 51%, based on 196 reviews, and an average rating of 5.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Tolkien has the period trappings and strong performances of a worthy biopic, but lacks the imagination required to truly do its subject justice."[23] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 48 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[24] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it a 76% positive score.[22]

Giving the film two out of five stars, Wendy Ide for The Observer commented "[a] decades-long trudge through Middle-earth would seem like a carefree skip through the park compared to this slog of a literary biopic."[25] David Sims, writing for The Atlantic, criticized the biopic as lacking imagination and subtlety, stating, "The result doesn't rise above the insight of a Wikipedia page."[26]

On the other hand, Graeme Tuckett of Stuff gave the film four out of five stars and called it "A subtle, delicate biopic of The Lord of the Rings author."[27] Writing for The Plain Dealer, Chuck Yarborough graded it A, calling it "a wonderful piece of art" and "a magical film worthy of the wizardry of Gandalf himself."[28] Yarborough later rated it the 2nd best film of the year, after Rocketman.[29]

Criticism over depiction of Tolkien's religion[edit]

The film was criticized for giving no indication that Tolkien's faith was a central theme in his life, despite its impact on his work.[30][31][32][33] Karukoski explained the decision as having been motivated by the difficulty he had portraying religion in Tolkien's life on account of its "internal[ity]."[30] Karukoski related that he had attempted to create scenes that depicted Tolkien's more religious side, but those scenes failed to engage initial audiences and were cut from the film.[30][34] Nevertheless, Karukoski explained that although there are no overt references to religion in the film, religion is still implied:

[W]e have scenes where he attends communion and helps Father Francis to show that he was a man of faith. There are also layered scenes, where he looks up to the heavens for an answer as if asking God for help. There's another scene where a figure is on a cross. Many people won’t notice those hints because they’re so eternal.[6]

Other reviews have stated that Tolkien's Christian faith is embedded in the film much the same way that it is embedded in his Middle-earth writings.[35]


  1. ^ Rissanen, Juho (May 2, 2019). "IL-Arvio: Dome Karukosken Hollywood-läpimurto Tolkien on pätevää viihdettä, mutta se kirkkain kipinä jää sittenkin puuttumaan". Iltalehti (in Finnish). Retrieved May 11, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Tolkien (2019)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  3. ^ Kroll, Justin (21 November 2013). "Fox Searchlight and Chernin Developing J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic". Variety. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  4. ^ Shamsian, Jacob (July 16, 2014). "J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis' friendship will be the subject of a new film". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  5. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (July 24, 2017). "Dome Karukoski To Helm J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d Klett, Leah MarieAnn (May 10, 2019). "'Tolkien' director on honoring life, legacy of famed 'Lord of the Rings' author (interview)". The Christian Post. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  7. ^ Knight, Rosie (29 March 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic: We've Seen Exclusive Footage". IGN. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  8. ^ a b Estrella, Ernie (30 March 2019). "Tolkien biopic promises to explore the author's love of friends, Edith Bratt, and language". Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  9. ^ Sharf, Zack (April 23, 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien's Family Disavows Fox Searchlight Biopic, Says 'It Does Not Approve' of Film". IndieWire. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  10. ^ Ritman, Alex (April 23, 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien's Family Does "Not Endorse" Upcoming Fox Searchlight Biopic". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, California: Valence Media. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
  11. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (July 25, 2017). "Nicholas Hoult Frontrunner To Play Young J.R.R. Tolkien". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  12. ^ Kroll, Justin (August 30, 2017). "Lily Collins to Co-Star Opposite Nicholas Hoult in Biopic 'Tolkien'". Variety. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  13. ^ Busch, Anita (12 October 2017). "Colm Meaney Cast In Fox Searchlight's 'Tolkien'". Deadline Hollywood. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  14. ^ Clarke, Stewart (25 October 2017). "Tom Glynn-Carney Signs on for 'Tolkien' Biopic". Variety. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  15. ^ Barraclough, Leo (15 November 2017). "'Red Oaks' Star Craig Roberts Joins Fox Searchlight's J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic". Variety. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  16. ^ Tolkien (2019) | IMDb
  17. ^ "The Tolkien Movie, Starring Hoult and Collins, Wraps Filming". 14 December 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  18. ^ "Tolkien is set for release in UK cinemas on May 3rd 2019". Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  19. ^ Welk, Brian (January 17, 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic With Nicholas Hoult Gets Summer 2019 Release Date". TheWrap. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  20. ^ "Tolkien (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  21. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro; Nancy Tartaglione (May 8, 2019). "'Pokémon Detective Pikachu' To Uncover $160M+ Around The World; 'Avengers: Endgame' Far From Over". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  22. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 12, 2019). "'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' Grabs $58M In 'Endgame' Dominated Universe; Marvel Pic 3rd Highest Domestic With $724M+ – Sunday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  23. ^ "Tolkien (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  24. ^ "Tolkien Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  25. ^ Ide, Wendy (May 5, 2019). "Tolkien review – lumpen life story". The Observer.
  26. ^ Sims, David (May 9, 2019). "The Tolkien Biopic Is Just Lord of the Rings References". The Atlantic.
  27. ^ "Tolkien: A subtle, delicate biopic of The Lord of the Rings author". Stuff. Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  28. ^ Yarborough, Chuck (2019-05-06). "'Tolkien' gives viewers a roadmap to the mysticism and magic of writer's Middle-earth sagas". cleveland. Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  29. ^ Yarborough, Chuck (2019-12-23). "'Rocketman,' 'Tolkien,' '1917' among year's best: Chuck Yarborough PD critics' picks 2019". cleveland. Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  30. ^ a b c Batura, Paul (May 12, 2019). "Paul Batura: Disney ignores Tolkien's Christian faith in new drama". Fox News. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  31. ^ Womack, Philip (May 4, 2019). "Why is Tolkien's work so successful, and why did the new film leave out his Christianity?". The Independent. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  32. ^ Loconte, Joseph (May 9, 2019). "Tolkien Film Fails to Capture the Majesty of His Achievement". National Review. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  33. ^ O'Niel, Tyler (May 9, 2019). "Disney's 'Tolkien' Movie Cuts Out the Christian Faith That Inspired His Life and Work". PJMedia.
  34. ^ Sean Sposato (May 13, 2019). "New report claims Disney ignored Tolkien's Christian faith in biographical movie". Inside the Magic. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  35. ^ Damick, Andrew Stephen (May 16, 2019). ""Tolkien" Film: How Christian Reviewers are Getting it Wrong". Ancient Faith Ministries. Retrieved May 19, 2019.

External links[edit]