I know I said that my next article would be “Five historical speeches that you’re glad you haven’t heard of” and that is still going ahead. That post is currently in draft form, due to be published in a week or two. On Bank Holiday Monday I watched the film Tolkien at the cinema and because Tolkien is one of the greatest writers in the fantasy genre I thought his film deserved a Spitfire Review.
This review contains spoilers for the film Tolkien. Do not read if you have not seen the film yet.
Tolkien is famous for writing The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion (the former two having been turned into blockbuster films and The Lord of the Rings being a cult classic). Tolkien is also famous for being a skilled linguist, knowing English, Finnish, Old Norse and Old English as well as inventing several languages of his own, most notably elvish. Tolkien attended Oxford University, fought in the First World War, worked as a code breaker in the second and died in 1973.
The plot of the film follows Tolkien fighting in the trenches during World War One as he experiences flashbacks to his younger self in England. During these flashbacks we watch as Tolkien helps form the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society) with three other creatives and balance his time between writing, falling in love and studying for his university entrance exams. Tolkien survives the war only to discover that out of his three friends in their “fellowship” only one survived. This inspires Tolkien to write his most famous pieces of work, The Hobbit and later The Lord of the Rings.
The biggest draw for this film, if you are a Lord of the Rings fan, are the references to Middle Earth. For example, while in the trenches Tolkien and his friend (who themselves mirror the relationship between Frodo and Sam) are attacked by German soldiers with flamethrowers. Tolkien visualises these soldiers as the dragon Smaug, from The Hobbit. Also in the trenches Tolkien spots a white horse (the rider killed in battle) which closely resembles Shadowfax, Gandalf’s horse and sees imposing figures in the mustard gas and smoke that resemble Sauron and Saruman. Tolkien ends the film by telling his children to speak to the trees like he did when he was a child, referencing the Ents of Fangorn Forest and in the final shots of the film he writes the opening line to The Hobbit.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
The film tells a powerful story highlighting the fruitlessness of war (a theme Tolkien used in his works as he became a pacifist in later life) and it’s destructiveness, the classism of the 20th century, the stresses of student life and having a forbidden love. The acting is, of course, brilliant and particular praise goes to Nicolas Holt, the lead actor.
Unfortunately it is unclear how much creative licence was used in the film. The Tolkien Estate have tried to distance themselves from the project despite Nicolas Holt’s claim that members of Tolkien’s family supported the project while it was being filmed. The director, Dome Karukoski, and the writers glossed over the religious aspects of Tolkien’s life. This may have been to avoid alienating the audience or for time reasons but it was clear that this was a big influence in Tolkien’s writing. If there are any more inaccuracies they have yet to be announced but as a whole the film appears to be very respectful of its subject.
I’ll award the film seven rings out of ten. If you like films such as The Imitation Game or Goodbye Christopher Robin then you’ll enjoy this. The trailer is below if you want to find out more.
I love the romantic idea of a fellowship of writers, like Tolkien and C S Lewis or Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. If you want to start a fellowship with me, let me know.