Film Review: Tolkien is a pedestrian look at the famed writer from childhood to hobbit

There is no question that author, J.R.R Tolkien is worthy of a bio-pic. The writer is responsible for some of the most beloved fantasy epics including: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This bio-pic is a rather pedestrian telling of some of his life events and as such, is unworthy of such a creative and lauded mind as its subject.

Some of the problems with this film can be put down to the rather serviceable script by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford. The pair have drawn from a bunch of important touchpoints from Tolkien’s life. This includes: his love of words, his being orphaned at a young age, his courtship of his muse and eventual wife, Edith Bratt, and his friendships with several young men who formed the TCBS or the Tea Club, Barrovian Society. The non-linear and episodic format means the approach feels rather scattergun. It also feels like some of the magic pixie dust is missing from these proceedings.

Nicholas Hoult is no stranger to playing famous authors, having previously played JD Salinger in Rebel in the Rye. In Tolkien, he puts in a very strong performance, playing the intelligent warrior poet. He finds philosophy professor (Derek Jacobs) to be a useful mentor and inspiration when it comes to his fantasy writing.

Tolkien has a relationship with Bratt (played by Lily Collins, in a rather thankless role). This pairing is denounced by Tolkien’s guardian, a local priest who raised Tolkien and his brother after they lost both their parents. Tolkien is also conscripted into the First World War. These wartime experiences were formative for him and he used these as inspiration for his novels.

There are several omissions in this film. Tolkien’s solid belief in Catholicism is not explored. Nor is his close friendship with fellow author, C.S. Lewis. There are times where it feels like director, Dome Karukoski (Tom of Finland) is struggling to dramatise the events of this author’s life. This was always going to be a hard task because it is arguable that the most intriguing elements are what took place in Tolkien’s mind and his inner, intellectual world. Tolkien’s estate have also disowned this film.

Bio-pics about authors can be a tricky beast. They certainly don’t lend themselves to the entertaining pomp and ceremony of a musical bio-pic like Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman for instance. Fans of Tolkien’s may ultimately enjoy this examination of the writer’s life and the themes of: love, loss and brotherhood, which Tolkien explored in his own works. But others may be left thinking that a writer who had such an enviable, creative mind was deserving of a far more exciting and unique bio-pic. This film is ultimately neither lord nor king.


Tolkien opens in cinemas nationally on the 13th June.