Tolkien (film)

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

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, and was the first feature film released after the acquisition of 21st Century Fox by Disney. The film received mixed reviews from critics and grossed $9 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.


As young children being raised by a widowed mother, J. R. R. Tolkien and his brother Hilary 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 Gilson. 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—Tolkien, Gilson, Christopher Wiseman, and Geoffrey Smith—form a close friendship, the TCBS or "Tea Club and Barrovian Society", 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 the University of Oxford, but attracts the attention of Professor Joseph Wright, a prominent philologist. Tolkien realises that language is his true passion, and enrols in Wright's class. When the First World War breaks out, he and his friends all enlist in the armed forces. 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 Smith, 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 Smith and Gilson have been killed; Wiseman survived but was traumatised.

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



(Left to right) Director Dome Karukoski and the stars playing the four TCBS friends: Anthony Boyle (Smith), Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien), Tom Glynn-Carney (Wiseman), and Patrick Gibson (Gilson) at the 2019 WonderCon

On November 21, 2013, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Chernin Entertainment announced they were developing a biographical film about the English philologist and author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien, based on a screenplay by David Gleeson.[4] The film was to touch on many themes in Tolkien's early life, including his friendships, love of languages, religion, and romance with Edith Bratt.[5] Another biopic, Tolkien and Lewis – about Tolkien and his friend C. S. Lewis – had been reported to be in production the previous year, but did not proceed.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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,[8] and that it had been a dream of his to create film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings.[9] 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."[8] 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."[5]

In July 2017, Nicholas Hoult was recruited as the frontrunner for the title role.[10] On August 30, 2017, Lily Collins was cast to co-star with Hoult, as Edith Bratt, love and later wife of Tolkien; Bratt was also the inspiration for Lúthien in The Silmarillion.[11] Colm Meaney, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Genevieve O'Reilly joined the cast in October 2017,[12][13] and Craig Roberts was added the following month.[14] Principal photography commenced in October 2017 in the United Kingdom,[15] and concluded on December 14, 2017.[16]

Locations for the film included Thornton Hough village green and Ellesmere Port docks.[17]

On April 23, 2019, the Tolkien Estate issued a statement making it clear that the family and estate did not endorse the film or its content.[18][19] The film was released on May 3, 2019, in the United Kingdom[20] and on May 10, 2019 in the United States.[21]


Box office[edit]

Tolkien has grossed $4.5 million in the United States,[22] and $4.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $9 million.[3] 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.[23] It ended up debuting to $2.2 million and finishing in ninth.[24]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 51%, based on 198 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."[25] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 48 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[26] 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.[24]

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."[27] 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."[28] Sheila O'Malley, reviewing the film for Roger, comments that having Tolkien literally "see[ing] dragons and what would eventually become the Eye of Sauron and the Nazgûl, unfurling across the hellscape of No-man's-Land ... is a very reductive approach to literature". Worse, in O'Malley's view, is that by explicitly showing the Somme as "'inspiration'" (her quotation marks) for Middle-earth, the film "diminish[es] both the battle and the books".[29]

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."[30] 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."[31] Yarborough later rated it the 2nd best film of the year, after Rocketman.[32]

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.[33][34][35] Karukoski explained the decision as motivated by the difficulty of portraying something as "internal" as religion in Tolkien's life.[33] 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.[33][36] Nevertheless, Karukoski explained that although there are no overt references to religion in the film, religion is still implied: "We 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."[8] Other reviews stated that Tolkien's Christian faith is embedded in the film as it is in his Middle-earth writings.[37]


  1. ^ "Tolkien (2019)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  2. ^ Rissanen, Juho (2 May 2019). "IL-Arvio: Dome Karukosken Hollywood-läpimurto Tolkien on pätevää viihdettä, mutta se kirkkain kipinä jää sittenkin puuttumaan". Iltalehti (in Finnish). Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Tolkien (2019)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  4. ^ Kroll, Justin (21 November 2013). "Fox Searchlight and Chernin Developing J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic". Variety. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Shamsian, Jacob (16 July 2014). "J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis' friendship will be the subject of a new film". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  7. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (24 July 2017). "Dome Karukoski To Helm J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d Klett, Leah MarieAnn (10 May 2019). "'Tolkien' director on honoring life, legacy of famed 'Lord of the Rings' author (interview)". The Christian Post. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  9. ^ Knight, Rosie (29 March 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic: We've Seen Exclusive Footage". IGN. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  10. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (25 July 2017). "Nicholas Hoult Frontrunner To Play Young J.R.R. Tolkien". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  11. ^ Kroll, Justin (30 August 2017). "Lily Collins to Co-Star Opposite Nicholas Hoult in Biopic 'Tolkien'". Variety. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Clarke, Stewart (25 October 2017). "Tom Glynn-Carney Signs on for 'Tolkien' Biopic". Variety. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Tolkien (2019) | IMDb
  16. ^ "The Tolkien Movie, Starring Hoult and Collins, Wraps Filming". 14 December 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  17. ^ "Thornton Hough village green used as a location for filming of Tolkien biopic". Chester Standard. Chester. 27 October 2017. Retrieved 28 June 2022.
  18. ^ Sharf, Zack (23 April 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien's Family Disavows Fox Searchlight Biopic, Says 'It Does Not Approve' of Film". IndieWire. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  19. ^ Ritman, Alex (23 April 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien's Family Does "Not Endorse" Upcoming Fox Searchlight Biopic". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, California: Valence Media. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  20. ^ "Tolkien is set for release in UK cinemas on May 3rd 2019". Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  21. ^ Welk, Brian (17 January 2019). "J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic With Nicholas Hoult Gets Summer 2019 Release Date". TheWrap. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  22. ^ "Tolkien (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  23. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro; Nancy Tartaglione (8 May 2019). "'Pokémon Detective Pikachu' To Uncover $160M+ Around The World; 'Avengers: Endgame' Far From Over". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  24. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (12 May 2019). "'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' Grabs $58M In 'Endgame' Dominated Universe; Marvel Pic 3rd Highest Domestic With $724M+ – Sunday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  25. ^ "Tolkien (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  26. ^ "Tolkien Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  27. ^ Ide, Wendy (5 May 2019). "Tolkien review – lumpen life story". The Observer.
  28. ^ Sims, David (9 May 2019). "The Tolkien Biopic Is Just Lord of the Rings References". The Atlantic.
  29. ^ O'Malley, Sheila (10 May 2019). "Reviews: Tolkien". Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  30. ^ "Tolkien: A subtle, delicate biopic of The Lord of the Rings author". Stuff. 5 June 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  31. ^ Yarborough, Chuck (6 May 2019). "'Tolkien' gives viewers a roadmap to the mysticism and magic of writer's Middle-earth sagas". cleveland. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  32. ^ Yarborough, Chuck (23 December 2019). "'Rocketman,' 'Tolkien,' '1917' among year's best: Chuck Yarborough PD critics' picks 2019". cleveland. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  33. ^ a b c Batura, Paul (12 May 2019). "Paul Batura: Disney ignores Tolkien's Christian faith in new drama". Fox News. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  34. ^ Womack, Philip (4 May 2019). "Why is Tolkien's work so successful, and why did the new film leave out his Christianity?". The Independent. Archived from the original on 21 June 2022. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  35. ^ Loconte, Joseph (9 May 2019). "Tolkien Film Fails to Capture the Majesty of His Achievement". National Review. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  36. ^ Sean Sposato (13 May 2019). "New report claims Disney ignored Tolkien's Christian faith in biographical movie". Inside the Magic. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  37. ^ Damick, Andrew Stephen (16 May 2019). "'Tolkien' Film: How Christian Reviewers are Getting it Wrong". Ancient Faith Ministries. Retrieved 19 May 2019.

External links[edit]