Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dome Karukoski|
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Harri Ylönen|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
|Box office||$6.2 million|
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. It is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures under the Fox Searchlight Pictures banner, making it the first film released by Searchlight after their acquisition by Disney on March 20, 2019.
As a teenager, J. R. R. Tolkien befriends a group of fellow artists and writers at his school, with whom he finds inspiration and courage. Their bond of fellowship grows with the years, as they experience life together. Meanwhile, Tolkien meets Edith Bratt, with whom he falls in love. But when World War I breaks out, Tolkien's relationships with his friends are tested, an act which threatens to tear their "fellowship" apart.
- Nicholas Hoult as J. R. R. Tolkien
- Harry Gilby as young J. R. R. Tolkien
- Lily Collins as Edith Bratt, the lifelong love and later wife of Tolkien, who served as inspiration for the characters Lúthien Tinúviel and Arwen Evenstar
- Mimi Keene as young Edith Bratt
- Colm Meaney as Father Francis Morgan, a Roman Catholic priest and former protege of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who served as Tolkien's guardian and father figure
- Derek Jacobi as Prof. Joseph Wright
- Anthony Boyle as Geoffrey Bache Smith, a poet who was very close to Tolkien, and was killed in World War I.
- Adam Bregman as young Geoffrey Smith
- Patrick Gibson as Robert Q. Gilson
- Albie Marber as young Robert Q. Gilson
- Tom Glynn-Carney as Christopher Wiseman, a man who is socially adept beyond his years and the class clown. He spots Tolkien's potential and invites him into his social group
- Ty Tennant as young Christopher Wiseman
- Craig Roberts as Private Sam Hodges, an enlisted man who serves as Tolkien's batman during the Battle of the Somme, which threatens to tear the "fellowship" apart.
- Pam Ferris as Mrs. Faulkner
- James MacCallum as Hilary Tolkien
- Guillermo Bedward as young Hilary Tolkien
- Laura Donnelly as Mabel Tolkien
- Genevieve O'Reilly as Mrs. Smith
- Owen Teale as Headmaster Gilson
- Samuel Martin as Red Eyed Captain
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. Another J. R. R. Tolkien biopic, Tolkien and Lewis, was reported to be in production a year before, but did not proceed. 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.
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. 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, and that it had been a dream of his to create film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. 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." 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."
In July 2017, Nicholas Hoult was reportedly in talks with the studio, as the frontrunner for the title role. 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. Colm Meaney, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Genevieve O'Reilly joined the cast in October 2017, and Craig Roberts was added the following month.
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. It ended up debuting to $2.2 million and finishing in ninth.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 50% based on 149 reviews, and an average rating of 5.78/10. 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." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 48 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews." 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.
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." David Sims, writing for The Atlantic, criticized the biopic's lack of imagination and subtlety, stating, "The result doesn't rise above the insight of a Wikipedia page."
Criticism over depiction of Tolkien's religion
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. Director Dome 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]." 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. 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.
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.
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