Starting in 1904 in idyllic countryside, John Tolkien, his brother and mother are moved to Birmingham by their priest following their fathers death. Shortly after they are orphaned and are found another home with a well off host. This biopic then follows Tolkien’s formative years intercut with his time in the Somme during World War 1.
The main thrust of the story tries to show us how the friendships he formed in school, the woman he fell in love with at his shared home and his experiences in the war all came together to culminate in his fantasy stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien is played by Harry Gilby as a young man and Nicholas Hoult as a man. Hoult is particularly impressive as he plays a man swept with excitement at the possibilities of art, someone falling in love with an otherworldly Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) and a man brutalised by War. His relationships with his friends and with Bratt are wholly believable and the loss of some more impactful as a result. Lily Collins is also really engaging as the love of his life.
In terms of pacing the film is deliberate and spends time building its fellowship of men. And this really pays off when we reach the emotional moments
Possibly the best aspect of the film is how beautifully shot it is and the small CGI inflections to make it similar in tone to the Lord of the Rings films. In terms of location it has bright countryside, dismal cities and the polar opposites of enticing Oxford and the hellish Somme. CGI allows smoke and fire to take the form of dragons and nazgul and for locations to appear similar to Hobbiton and the Orc mines. Some of the scenes in the countryside between John and Edith make her appear elven and ethereal also.
The score is also very good, subtle and sparse. And the period costumes excellent.
I was very pleased to spend the time in this world with Tolkien.