Fresh from his appearance in ‘The Favourite’ at the beginning of the year, Nicholas Hoult is sticking with the period setting for his latest role in new biographical drama ‘Tolkien’. In a more serious role than his previous film demanded Hoult portrays the hugely celebrated, high fantasy author of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series, J. R. R. Tolkien. The film follows Tolkien in his youth and documents his time at Oxford University as well as his involvement in World War I, but would this legendary storyteller’s own life story make for compelling viewing?
Admittedly in the film’s early stages the narrative feels sparse. We watch Tolkien grow up enduring, not a straightforward childhood but not a particularly unique one either. In some ways it feels like the writers here are content to rest on the laurels of Tolkien’s later literary success & fame, somehow believing that this, by default, gives his, in many ways, ordinary personal life more grandeur than it really had. As a result of this for some time the film does seem a little aimless with not a lot driving it forward other than the anticipation of his writing of one of his famous novels. However, there’s a definite turning point which not only sees a peak in audience attention but also gives the meandering section before it much more purpose, this turning point is when the main narrative directs its focus to the War. It’s here that we see the real importance of the relationships Tolkien has developed over his time at school and university. This narrative turn puts a lot of the story into perspective and the careful groundwork that the film has done comes to fruition from this point on, delivering touching and heartfelt drama in a previously unexpected way.
Hoult does a good job in the lead role, his character is unsurprisingly fascinated with words and language and this is conveyed throughout the screenplay. Hoult performs in a way that isn’t alienating for audiences, instead blending his natural charisma and the complexities of Tolkien into one to make for an intriguing central character and a very watchable lead performance. Thomas Newman’s instantly recognisable sound for the film’s score helps to keep the sometimes linguistic heavy content of the dialogue light and accessible. His compositions also help to enhance the effective moments of drama that make the third act of the film so captivating. This is also a result of the strong supporting cast, with Anthony Boyle shinning brightest as Tolkien’s Oxford buddy Geoffrey Bache Smith. There is much more of a focus on Tolkien’s relationships with his friends than his romantic interest, Edith, played by Lily Collins. So despite an enjoyable performance from Collins she doesn’t really get the chance to excel in this underdeveloped role. Tolkien’s relationship or “fellowship” with his friends is much more fulfilling and the group exudes an endearing camaraderie, serving as a vehicle for the majority of the humour and heart that the film portrays.
So whilst the film relies heavily on the future achievements of Tolkien and probably wouldn’t work without this context it still successfully delivers an insightful and emotional look at the early life of the famous author. Hoult is a confident presence in the central role and demonstrates essential chemistry with his supporting cast, nessecary for the carefully constructed drama to be as effective as it is. It explores Tolkien’s creative influences and the nurturing of his talents, which for some might not be enough to warrant the focus of a full feature film. However, despite this and a slightly directionless beginning ‘Tolkien’ does make for a satisfying cinematic journey when it arrives at the culmination of its narrative.
Written by Hamish Calvert
Rating – 7/10
Question: What is your favourite Nicohals Hoult film?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
Thanks for reading this review and please let us know what you thought about the movie! Leave a comment below or drop us a tweet over at @HCMovieReviews.
Thanks to Movie House Cinemas for screening access