Tolkien (12a)

Dir. Dome Karukoski

Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Laura Donnelly, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi

Reviewed by Rob Santer (@RobSanter)

 “It’s about journeys…. journeys we take to prove ourselves, …. adventures………courage…. and…. fellowship”

If you are a fan of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ you will thoroughly enjoy this film. It takes you on a magical, yet insightful journey through the early years of RJJ Tolkien, drawing you in to his wonderous thoughts and passion for adventure, mystical beings & language! 

The story starts with Tolkien, his brother and mother having to move to Birmingham, England after the death of this father. Soon after arriving his mother also dies, and he and his brother come under the care of a Catholic priest (Colm Meaney) and placed in to the home of a wealthy woman. The boys attend King Edwards School, and it’s during this time that Tolkien makes friends with 3 other boys who have artistic flare and inspiration: Robert Gilson, Christopher Wiseman & Geoffrey Bache Smith. 

‘This is more than just a friendship……. it’s an alliance. An invincible alliance!’

These boys become more than good friends, not only studying together, but sharing dreams, aspirations and life. Over time, they form a deep bond, creating a club called the TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society!) with the chant of ‘Helheimr’ to encourage one another to rise and attempt courageous quests! This bond remains with them into adulthood.

Helheimr’ – the call to living life to the full!

Also staying in the wealthy woman’s house is a young girl called Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), to whom Tolkien takes a liking. They start spending time together, their relationship blossoms and Tolkien becomes distracted with love. But not for long, as his Catholic priest guardian prohibits him from seeing her any further until the age of 21, so he can focus on his studies and getting into University.

Tolkien’s achievements at University are less than desired, with one his TCBS pals confronting him that he is pining for Edith. This sparks an argument which ends in a fight, but not a broken friendship. 

After poor exam results, Tolkien is told he will no longer receive funding for his studies, and he will need to leave at the end of term. On hearing this news, his TCBS brothers speak truth into his life about his love for language and encourage him to switch courses and approach Professor Wright, who is the head of that subject. He has an honest conversation with the professor, who sets him a challenge to write a 5000-word essay by that evening to have any chance of being considered for his course. Wright was impressed, and after Tolkien shares his ideas and writings with him, he is accepted on the course. Wright sees Tolkien as a genius and they too form a friendship.

‘The way you follow the rhythms of language…… I have to tell you Mr Tolkien, I have never come across anything like it.’

Then WW1 breaks out! Before they know it, the TCBS Band of Brothers are now enlisted to go and fight. They share a final night together over a drink and memories. The following morning when they are due to ship out, Tolkien and Edith meet up, to which she tells him she is now engaged to another man. Finally, they declare their love for one another, which results in a passionate goodbye and the promise that Edith will wait for him.

We then see war in all its terror, death and brutality. Men going over the front line into battle. Tolkien is struck down with trench fever but is on a mission to find his good friend Geoffrey, who is out on the field in battle, and enlists the help of a soldier to find him. The film shows many thoughts that Tolkien has whilst suffering with this fever and portrays imagery from the Tolkien films that we have come to love. Finally, after succumbing to the fever on the Battlefield, Tolkien wakes up in hospital, where Edith has been by his side. 

The film finishes with Tolkien becoming a professor at Oxford, where he starts to pen the inspirational stories that have been so widely acclaimed and enjoyed by thousands across the world.

This is a great film to watch as a men’s group and there is a follow up reflection kindly provided by KovaPR, which can be found here: