Tolkien (2019) is a biographical picture about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, most well known for writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Directed by Dome Karukoski, this film stars Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins. Telling the story of Tolkien (Hoult), the film follows the journey of his life from child up to war, where he fought for his country, right up to the start of his writing career.
All of the performances here are great, from the adults and from the child actors. Nicholas Hoult gives a solid performance here, as he does with every role that he is given. Lily Collins steals every scene that she is in, having a certain charm about her and her character in particular. It is these performances that sell the story and the relationship between each other, which is very important for a film like this one. I found the relationship between Tolkien and Edith Bratt (Collins) to be pure and innocent, and I found myself cheering them on in their sweet moments together.
By far, the best aspect of this film is the brotherhood that is set up by Tolkien and his three friends at school. Not only did this feel genuine, but it was nice to see them all grow up through a decade and see where they would all go afterwards. I also loved that they were all written to care about a certain part of the arts, appreciating different aspects. It gave representation to certain crafts that aren’t talked about much anymore, such as poetry, and it was great to shine a light on it.
Unfortunately though, that is where my compliments end for this film. For a film that is about the life of someone who wrote some of the most epic books in history, I ended up finding this film to be dull and lifeless. There was so much filler here that it seemed dry and lacklustre. I ended up not caring about most of the characters from the scenes, especially at the university.
I am someone that is not a fan of when films continue to shift times in their films and go back to back on each one, and this film uses the same technique. It changes from the past of Tolkien, to his present of being at war, and I did not like any of the war sequences. It seems like a lot of the budget went into creating a CGI dragon on the battlefield, and I found it completely bizarre and it took me out of the film for that moment.
What confused me about the film is how unbalanced Tolkien’s writing life is used in the film. You see him writing a completely new language, seeing dragons in war and more, and yet the film feels focused on one of his friend’s career more than his. It’s as if this film didn’t want to celebrate his life, but his friend’s one. I won’t say how it happens, as it is a turning moment in the final act of the film, but it left me feeling empty about Tolkien’s successful career, which is something I definitely do not want to say.
This seems to be a common trend with most biopics nowadays, but I actually question how much of the film was based on real events and how much was fictionalised. There seemed to be a lot of coincidences and moments made to force references and his story into, yet they also felt fake. Scenes like the opera scene just don’t seem like something that would actually happen, and unfortunately they didn’t even work for me in a fictional film. It just felt so empty, like a shell that hadn’t been fleshed out.
Overall, I was unfortunately disappointed with this film. With a legend such as Tolkien, I was not expecting to be bored throughout this film. There were glimmers of great moments laying within the film, and when it focuses on Tolkien and his friends is when it works best. At a time with biopics are gaining popularity again, this one does not match up to the level that Tolkien deserves.
Have you seen Tolkien yet? Were you disappointed like myself, or did you end up enjoying this film? Let me know in the comments below and let’s have a conversation.