Thursday, September 12, 2019

Tolkien: Exceptional Storytelling

Movie Review: Tolkien (2019)
Version: Library Blu-Ray

Much was written about the early life of fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, but not much has been told in film. The 2019 film Tolkien brings to life his struggles and triumphs as an orphan and prodigy of language and the arts in early 20th century England and the imagination that brought him to write two of the world's most beloved stories in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

As a young boy, John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary would lose both their father and mother and be sent to live with relatives and then a boarding house to grow up. Their legal guardian was a kindly Catholic priest named Father Francis, who shepherded their upbringing and quality education. Tolkien takes us through those cold, difficult days, and the part camaraderie played in building Tolkien's imagination and the appreciation of friendship and fellowship that would become key themes in his books. He struggled to pass his exams to earn scholarships and just as he was about to attach himself to an esteemed professor of language, The War to End All Wars (World War I) erupted and Tolkien found himself on the front lines in Europe, where his experiences fueled many of his visions for the horrors of battle for his stories. Of course, he returned after the war to become a professor of philology and write his books. Many of his friends did not make it through the war, providing grist for his tales as well. 

Tolkien is a rugged, ambitious telling of Tolkien's early life and a celebration of language and storytelling. The action is vivid, its settings are breathtaking, and the characters are heartwarming, making for brilliant film making and the story memorable. So, too, the imagery is evocative. The film does Tolkien himself proud. Harry Gilby is excellent as young J.R.R. and Nicholas Hoult is devout as his adult self. Colm Meany was wonderful as Father Francis. They lead a great cast. As a steadfast Tolkien fan, I found the film Tolkien exceptional.

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